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Czech instrument on Mars

Scientists from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics ASCR prepare an experiment for the ExoMars 2018

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IKI RAN) announced a call for scientific instrumentation of the ExoMars 2018 landing platform at the end of March 2015. Originally, it wasn't meant to carry the scientific payload, but the present NPO Lavochkin design allows placement of approximately 45 kg of scientific instruments and experiments. Negotiations preceding the call lasted for more than two years, and this delay can significantly reduce the time to prepare scientific experiments. Despite the fact, the ESA has received nine project proposals, of which six were selected for implementation.

These instruments are designed for long-term monitoring of climate and atmosphere, to study liveability of the surface and the internal structure of planet Mars. In two cases, they are separate instruments and in four another they represent an extension of Russian instruments METEO and Maigret. One of the selected instruments is the wave analyzer WAM for measuring of changes in a magnetic field. This proposal was submitted by a team of scientists from the Czech Institute of Atmospheric Physics under the leadership of professor Santolík. The WAM instrument examine the electromagnetic emissions of atmospheric origin, magnetic anomalies on the surface of Mars, the planet's internal structure and the impact of space weather. Given the character of the ExoMars mission in 2018, all parts of the lander will have to comply with stricter rules of planetary protection in class IVa. The instrument will be delivered as part of a larger Russian experiment MAIGRET developed at IKI RAN. "The successful selection of our proposal is a great motivation for all scientists and technicians involved in this project. Our wave analyzer module enables to check if there are lightning discharges in dust storms and whirlswinds for the fisrt time. Another task of the module is to find out if the radio waves can spread from outer environment to the surface of Mars," says professor Santolík, Head of Space Physics department, IAP ASCR.

The IAP team have a rich experience with similar design and construction of scientific instruments that have been prepared for missions Solar Orbiter, Luna-Resource Orbiter, JUICE, Resonance or TARANIS. It is a significant advantage, because the flight hardware of the WAM analyzer has to be delivered by May 2017. The ExoMars 2018 probe is to be launched in May 7, 2018, and the lander will touch the ground in 15 January 2019. Current plans count on a two-year operation of the platform, but the period is expected to be extended.

The group of experts for selection of the landing area has chosen Oxia Planum as the primary place. It is interesting that there is no backup landing area. Aram Dorsum area and Mawrth Vallis area suffers from difficult access from a technical point of view, the Hypanis Vallis area is the least scientifically interesting. However, the latter region is the unofficial backup area. In case, the ExoMars 2018  would be launched in 2020, the primary landing area remains the Oxia Planum and backup areas are Aram dorsum and Mawrth Vallis. Internally, ESA works on evaluation of other backup windows in June 2018 and early 2019.