ExoMars, Europe’s mission to Mars

ExoMars is part of ESA’s Aurora programmeand lays the foundation for future human exploration of the Solar System.

Its aim is to examine the biological environment on Mars in preparation for other robotic missions and possible human exploration. Data from the mission will also provide invaluable input for broader studies of geochemistry, environmental science and exobiology-the search for life on other planets.

ExoMars will consist of an orbiter, a descent module and a six wheeled rover. The first European rover on Mars will carry a drill that can burrow up to 2 m into the Martian surface allowing its scientific instruments to analyse and sample the soil and search for mineral content, composition and traces of past and present life.

Mission facts

  • The rover’s Pasteur payload will be devoted to exobiology - the search for evidence of life on Mars, past or present - and geochemistry.

  • The lander will include a package RPT devoted to studies of geophysics and environmental science.

  • Mission control will be at the European Space Agency Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.

  • ExoMars will influence whether Europe contributes to the future Mars Sample Return mission.


The rover will roam around the Martian surface by using electrical power generated from its solar arrays.

The rover’s software will have a degree of ‘intelligence’ and autonomy to make certain decisions on the ground and will navigate using optical sensors.

PanCam (The Panoramic Camera System) will provide 3-D imagery of the surface and provide context for the life detection experiments.

The GEP (Geophysical and Environmental Package) will characterise the Martian environment at the landing site.

An environmental package will provide data on the planet’s UV and ionising radiation, dust, humidity and meteorology.

UK involvement

Astrium Limited is building the rover and there is considerable involvement from a number of academic institutions with the on board instruments.

UK involvement on the rover is considerable:

PanCam is led by the UK with scientists from University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) working with the University of Aberystwyth, Birkbeck College and Leicester University. The wide angle stereo camera will provide stereo information and enable the concentration of water vapour to be measured.

Brunel University, Bradford University and BNSC partner, STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, are key players in the development of the CCD camera on the Raman-LIBS (Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer) which can detect the presence of past or present life on Mars.

Scientists from Brunel and Leicester Universities also provided the X-ray CCD detectors on the X-Ray Diffractometer which will identify the mineral content of rock samples.

Imperial College London is developing techniques for sample extraction and analysis that will help with the design of the Mars Organics and Oxidants Detector.

The UK-led LMC (Life Marker Chip) instrument will search for specific molecules associated with life. Scientists from Cranfield University and the University of Leicester helped develop the chip. UVIS (the UV-VIS Spectrometer for ultra violet and visible light) is also UK-led at The Open University. It is part of the GEP and will measure the UV and visible spectrum on the planet.

AEP, the Meteorological or Advanced Environmental Package, is suite of UK-led instruments involving the Open University together with the University of Oxford. These instruments will measure pressure, temperature, wind speed, direction and sound.

SEIS (Seismic System) contains a microseismometer element provided by Imperial College London (ICL). The instrument will explore the internal structure of the planet and examine whether there is seismic activity within the large volcanic regions of Mars.

ICL is also providing the software for the magnetometer’s on board analysis and magnetic field detection.

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