Several models of the ESA-developed ExoMars Entry, descent and landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) are being tried and tested to ensure that the EDM reaches the Martian surface safely in 2016. The development process that is in place for the EDM will enhance Europe’s expertise in several technologies crucial for space exploration.
Europe gearing up to land on Mars in 2016
The ExoMars EDM is a key element of the ExoMars programme. The Module is scheduled to begin its journey in January 2016 when it is launched along with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, and it will perform a controlled landing on the surface of Mars approximately 9 months later.
The period between entry into the atmosphere until landing is crucial for planetary exploration missions. The EDM will travel at velocities up to 5.83 kilometres per second (above Mach 30), as it reaches the Martian atmosphere. To limit the shock to the structure when landing, it must stabilise and decelerate, reaching the surface at a maximum velocity of about 4 metres per second.
As the EDM decelerates, its external surface will face extreme temperatures, up to 1250°C, and low atmospheric pressure (less than 1/100 of the Earth ground pressure), which may hinder inflation of the EDM parachute. Moreover, since the landing is scheduled to take place during the dust storm season, the EDM will have to operate in a highly dust-loaded atmosphere.
All subsystems and equipment must perform flawlessly in this hostile environment. Most of the EDM subsystems rely on technologies that are not commonly used for satellite development and therefore, they require thorough and extensive test campaigns.
The main EDL technologies involved in the EDM design are:
Because the use of these technologies on a Mars mission is novel to Europe, development was started early in the ExoMars programme to keep to the launch date of 2016. Testing of the basic design and performance of the EDM started in 2008. Several tests have since been carried out to demonstrate the performance of the main technologies, required for successful entry, descent, and landing on the Martian surface.
A summary of these tests is available via the links on the right.