NASA may have already landed several rovers on the surface of Mars, but that isn’t stopping other countries from trying it themselves. The European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos have signed a deal to launch an orbiter in 2016 that will orbit the Red Planet, as well as plans to put a rover on Mars in 2018 as part of the ExoMars program.
As a part of the deal, the Russians will be providing the rockets for both missions in 2016 and 2018, while the Europeans will be providing the orbiter and the rover. The orbiter will study the chemical composition of the atmosphere of Mars. For the 2018 mission, the Europeans will provide the carrier and the ExoMars rover, which will be tasked with the mission to look for signs of life on the Red Planet.
However, what’s perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this proposed rover is that it will be able to dig up samples from as deep as 6.5 feet beneath the surface of Mars, which will be the deepest that any rover has ever dug. The ESA says that, by doing this, the rover will be able to collect samples “that have been shielded from the harsh conditions of the surface, where radiation and oxidants can destroy organic materials.”
NASA actually pulled out of the ExoMars program last year, but while they’re no longer a part of it, the ESA said that NASA will still contribute to the project by providing some communications software, as well as engineering support during the missions. Other details haven’t yet been discussed, but we’re excited nonetheless.