ExoMars – 22nd November 2012

Our October meeting was addressed by Andrew Coates (Mullard Space Science Laboratory), who gave us a talk about ExoMars. Miriam writes:

This was a very informative talk about exploration of Mars, and how MSSL is working on an instrument called the Pancam (Panoramic Stereo Cameras) for ESA’s Exomars Rover which will be launched in 2016.

He put this mission into context, reminding us of all the previous and current missions which are exploring the surface of Mars. We watched simulations of the successful landing of Curiosity: ESA plans to use similar technology to ensure Exomars lands safely. The Exomars Rover will be the first to drill down into the crust and analyse samples.

Andrew explained how important international co-operation will be to achieve a successful mission and how different scientists contribute vital expertise to all the planning, research and development.

MSSL is designing and building the camera systems which will be vital to the mission. We were shown a model to illustrate the size of the Pancam and also saw sample photographs from trials carried out recently. The detail on the images was impressive.

More information can be found on the ESA website .

Here is an extract from the MSSL website :

MSSL is leading the team providing the Panoramic Stereo Cameras for ESA’s Exomars Rover.
The Martian environment presents the main technological challenges facing PanCam. Because the instrument is mounted on the rover mast, it is exposed to the fine dust which settles from the atmosphere and is exposed to a difficult thermal environment. Temperatures may fall as low as minus 120C, depending on latitude and season, and there is, like on Earth, constant diurnal cycling, with warmer temperatures during the day and colder temperatures at night. Even at the equator the range is quite extreme: perhaps as “warm” as 0C during the day, but falling to minus 90C at night. The PanCam team needs to ensure that electronics and mechanical parts maintain reliable operation throughout a lengthy mission.


Like the rest of the rover, PanCam has planetary protection challenges, for example ensuring that we do not contaminate the Martian surface, not only because we want to be good planetary neighbours, but also so we do not affect the results of the biological and chemical analyses to be performed on-board. Moreover, because we are part of a sample return mission, it’s important to not compromise the pristine nature of the samples to be eventually returned to Earth.

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