Is there life on Mars? QinetiQ supports investigations into Martian environment

Matthew Cosby, Chief Engineer, QinetiQ Space UK

Establishing if life ever existed on Mars is something most people have asked themselves. The European Space Agency (ESA) ExoMars programme intends to investigate the Martian environment, and to demonstrate new technologies that will pave the way for a future Mars sample return mission in the 2020s.

Our Space division here at QinetiQ is excited to be part of ExoMars, through our provision of assured on board communications for both of the forthcoming missions.

The first ExoMars mission, to be launched in 2016, comprises an orbiter plus an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module (EDM), ESA’s first landing vehicle to set down on Mars. Using QinetiQ’s communications equipment, the craft will collect and transmit data from the planet for between four and eight days.

This will be followed, in 2018, by a second mission, which this time will include a rover; as its name suggests, the vehicle will be able to roam around Mars collecting even more in-depth data. The rover which has a six-month lifespan, will search for signs of past and present life on Mars, investigate how the water and chemical environment varies, and examine Martian atmospheric trace gases and their sources.

The atmosphere on Mars is obviously far removed from anything that normal communications systems are expected to operate in. At QinetiQ we have environmental test facilities that allow us to minimise any adverse atmospheric effects to the on board communications. For instance, our environmental chambers allow us to test at temperatures expected to be experienced on Mars, and can simulate the carbon dioxide Marian atmosphere, which has the pressure equivalent to 100,000 feet altitude on the Earth.

ExoMars image

Source: European Space Agency (ESA)


ExoMars is just one example of how QinetiQ continues to assure mission success for its customers as a world leader in deploying sophisticated technologies, delivering robust solutions for deep space exploration, space and near space communications, navigation and Earth observation.

This pioneering work helps our customers to realise mission objectives through:

  • Developing revolutionary electric propulsion systems to increase ROI for commercial communication satellite operators and enable challenging space science missions for ESA
  • Radiation testing to increase the resilience of mission systems
  • Developing a new ‘low shock’ docking mechanism for commercial space operators

Get more information on the ExoMars programme.




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