ExoMars is a double ESA mission under Italian guidance, carried out in cooperation with Roscosmos

Subject line: Exploration of Mars

Responsibility of the mission: ESA/ROSCOSMOS

Date of launch: March 14th, 2016- September 2022

 

Description

Italy, through the ASI, is the main contributor to the double EXOMARS mission, with a 40% of the total investment.

The mission is divided in two stages. During the first mission, launched on March 14th, 2016, the (TGO) probe reached the orbit of Mars after seven months of journey to start a long stage of investigations on the presence of methane and other natural gases in the atmosphere, but also to detect traces of the presence of active life. This stage also involved landing on the Red Planet – in the point named Meridiani Planum - a descent module (EDM), named Schiaparelli in honor of the Italian astronomer Giovanni V. Schiaparelli, the first person to draw an accurate map of the planet. In fact, the EDM separated from the probe on October 16th, 2016 and performed nominally all the predicted operations, up to the last stage of the descent – On October 19th – when, due to an anomaly in one of the control systems, the module crashed on Mars.

The second part of the mission, which will start in September 2022, involves landing on the Red Planet an innovative rover capable of moving and, in particular, penetrating the surface to analyse it. On October 21st, 2015, the ESA announced the choice of the first candidate site for the 2020 landing, selected due to its special characteristics within a shortlist of four candidates: Oxia Planum.

 

Scientific goals

ExoMars was designed and manufactured with the main goal of acquiring and showing the autonomous European ability to perform a controlled landing on Mars’s surface, operating on the planet’s surface by moving around with an equipped rover and, furthermore, accessing to the subsoil to extract samples for in-situ analysis. Specifically, the mission is aimed at detecting the traces of past and present life on Mars and the geochemical characterization of the planet, in order to improve the knowledge of the Martian environment and its geophysical aspects and allow to identify the possible risks of future human missions.

 

Italian contribution

The TGO on-board camera, named CaSSIS (Colour and Stereo Scientific Imaging System), is designed and manufactured at the University of Berna with the contribution of the INAF – Astronomical Observatory of Padua and the Italian Space Agency. CaSSIS provides high-resolution, colour stereo pairs of accurately selected regions. Furthermore, it supports the other instruments aboard the TGO in its search for gases that can be important from a biological point of view, such as methane gas.

DREAMS (Dust Characterization, Risk Assessment and Environment Analyser on the Martian Surface), aboard the Schiaparelli probe, is a detector suite which measures weather parameters (pressure, temperature, humidity, speed and direction of wind, solar radiation) and the atmospheric electrical field in proximity to Mars’ surface. It is the result of the cooperation between the ASI, the INAF – Astronomical Observatory of Naples and the CISAS of Padua.

AMELIA (Atmospheric Mars Entry and Landing Investigation and Analysis) is a modelling of the Martian atmosphere, which uses the data collected by the detectors during the descent of the Schiaparelli lander on the Martian surface. In cooperation with the CISAS of Padua.

MA_MISS (Mars Multispectral Imager for Subsurface Studies) is a spectrometer which analyses the geological and biological evolution of the Martian subsoil. It is inserted within the Drill and will allow to analyse the structure of the internal surface of the drilling performed by the Drill. In cooperation with the INAF-IAPS.

NOMAD (an acronym for Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery) is a set of high-resolution spectrometers, capable of analysing in detail the gases in the atmosphere of Mars. It will also be able to detect the compounds in the atmosphere, even in very low concentrations.

INRRI (INstrument for landing-Roving laser Retroreflector Investigations), the laser micro-reflector manufactured by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN).

 

International agreements

The ESA assigned to the Italian industry, and in particular to Thales Alenia Space Italia (Thales 67%, Finmeccanica 33%), the main leadership of both missions, as well the overall system responsibility for all elements. Furthermore, Thales Alenia Space Italia is also in direct charge of developing the mother probe (Orbiter), as well as the Schiaparelli lander and the project of the rover that will carry out the geological and biochemical analyses of Mars during the mission 2018. Finmeccanica’s Avionics and Aerospace Systems Division, instead, provides photovoltaic systems, power units and attitude sensors; furthermore it contributes, for the 2016 mission, to the manufacturing of the CASSiS instrument, which analyses the Martian atmosphere and manufactures, for the 2018 mission, to the special two-meter drill that will drill the surface of the Red Planet and extract samples to search for traces of past or present life. Also the development of the mission control centre, and the infrastructure providing the necessary communication to operate the rover control centre, are made in Italy and were manufactured by Telespazio (Finmeccanica 67%, Thales 33%).

ALTEC, a joint stock company fully owned by the ASI and Thales Alenia Space Italia, also has an important role in the mission. The control centre will be based at ALTEC premises, in Turin.

‣ News

THURSDAY 23 JULY 2020

Galileo Masters 2019, interview with the first Italian winners ‣

The Galileo Masters are the leading Innovation Competition for Satellite Navigation which annually awards prizes to the best services, products, and business concepts that use satellite navigation in everyday life. Since its initiation in 2004, the Galileo Masters mission is to spur on the development of market-driven applications based on satellite navigation technologies. The spectrum of submitted business solutions reflects the manifold opportunities made possible by this future‐oriented technology. Individuals and entire industries alike can benefit from satellite navigation in areas such as healthcare, leisure, traffic management, other rail, sea, and air transport logistics –to name just a few. The Italian Space Agency joined and supported the competition in 2019 for the first time. Here, we have the first Italian winners, Alex Minetto, Neil Gogoi, Giampaolo Marinaro and Maria Chiara Bello from the Polytechnic of Turin. They will tell us how this experience went and what the next steps are. How did you decide to get engaged with the Galileo Challenge 2019? The Galileo Challenge competition has a strong relevance in the GNSS landscape. Given the resources and effort dedicated by Europe in the creation of GALILEO, an independent satellite navigation system (albeit interoperable with currently existing systems), the competition is of significant interest for students and researchers operating in Europe (Italy for our case). Through our research, we have in our hands an innovative technology capable of improving nominal performance of the current GNSS receivers. By mutual agreement with our academic advisor Prof. Fabio Dovis and with the research team of which we are currently part of (NavSAS), we therefore decided to present our idea to the competition. Tell us something about you The CAPS.loc team consisted of two doctoral students, Alex, Neil and Giampaolo, who graduated in telecommunications engineering before the competition and a student, Maria Chiara, in the process of writing her thesis for graduation. We all came from different experiences but sharing the same passion for innovation, applied research and problem solving. Our careers have seen us engaged in the study of telecommunications engineering (Alex and Giampaolo albeit with a few years of difference and different study paths), ICT technologies focused on the innovative and sustainable development (Maria Chiara) and geodesy and applications related to the world of positioning (Neil). GNSS is an extremely multidisciplinary field truly open to the research and through our work and interests, we have merged towards applied research in navigation and positioning. Tell us, in summary, your idea We cannot disclose too much, let’s say … Today, many of the location-based services (LBS) related to urban mobility rely on smartphones. The availability of raw GNSS measurements on Android phones has opened the possibility of exchanging such measurements for improved accuracy, precision, robustness, and availability. Collaborative ranging and cooperative positioning (CP), if implemented with the smartphones’ ultra-low-cost GNSS chipsets, can enable a plethora of applications that support a modern smart city framework. Cooperative Android Positioning System for Localisation (CAPS.Loc) proposes developing an optimal framework on Android smartphones for the exchange and near-real-time exploitation of raw GNSS measurements, as well as improved LBS. It is expected to provide three key functionalities: A network structure for the real-time exchange of measurements, one white box for the combination of measurements by means of time synchronisation, and a second white box for the integration of collaborative data into the main navigation algorithm. Aside from being a server-based system, CAPS-Loc is expected to use direct connectivity among the users to ensure continuity of its service when mobile network is no longer available. What are the main technological challenges that you still have to face? The technological obstacles linked to this collaborative technology are due to the few implementation attempts made so far (or at least present in the literature). Although the effectiveness of this paradigm has been demonstrated at theoretical level in terms of improved accuracy and precision of the position solution, the difficulties of an effective simple implementation have hindered its dissemination making it probably unattractive or still too immature for immediate industrial/commercial applications. This is demonstrated by similar studies carried out in 2010 at MIT (U.S.A) and more recent research carried out in Europe by colleagues operating in other research centers and groups. The research carried out by Alex and Neil within the NavSAS group primarily aims to provide a solid theoretical framework on which to act flexibly according to the possible applications. What has been explored through the work of Giampaolo and Maria Chiara has subsequently brought the framework closer to mass-market devices, allowing us in fact to aim for field trials that could be considered a "worst-case" scenario at least in terms of hardware performance as the current work is limited precisely to ultra-low-cost GNSS receivers. Once the technology was tested and validated using such low-cost hardware, there would have been scientific confirmation of the feasibility of the idea even in non-ideal conditions. What are the most innovative technologies that can best support you in solving your challenges (eg artificial intelligence, etc.)? The application of the current new wave of artificial intelligence (machine learning and intelligent systems) are beyond the scope of our current work. The strong advertisement of such technologies indeed does not always correspond to actual intelligent and autonomous systems. At the moment we do not look at these algorithms as a need despite of the advanced statistical methods that are implemented in our solution. The algorithms studied so far to exploit cooperation are based on classic estimators well known in the engineering of automatic controls and extremely popular in the field of GNSS technologies. What our technology definitely needs is a network infrastructure that allows a rapid exchange of the few kB of data required for this service; that favors the exchange in the background using specific high priority and low latency protocols, as prefigured by the URLLC conceived for the 5G NR. Furthermore, the availability of low-cost integrated antennas and chipsets capable of supporting multi-frequency GNSS has paved the way for the improvement of cooperative solutions and protection measures against counterfeit signals. NavSAS is active and has acquired some experience in the latter area. Tell us something about your next steps. How do you plan to implement your project idea? Firstly, we want to present a brief history of developments following the Galileo Master challenge. With the research work carried out on raw measurements by Neil and Giampaolo and the application side work of Alex and Maria Chiara, it was possible to create a Proof-Of-Concept of technology based precisely on the receivers embedded in Android smartphones. The framework developed natively on the Android platform and based on a client-server system for the exchange of information was developed thanks to a funding from the European Space Agency as part of the HANSEL project, titled ‘A testbed for positioning in smart cities. It’s an App capable of interfacing with a back-end service installed on an AWS service which provides an improvement of the position totally free of charge without additional technologies or infrastructures. With this proof-of-concept completed, now is the time to extend the research on cooperative differential GNSS positioning and similar solutions in other areas, from vehicular networks to service robotics (rovers and drones) and why not, to extra-terrestrial navigation using GNSS signals for the positioning of spacecrafts in a cooperative way as well! What do you think about this experience? The experience of the Galileo Masters has allowed us to get in touch with young people from all over Europe engaged in the development of new ideas on the use of satellite navigation. We’ve met professionals from academia, from the industry and start-ups, all committed to supporting and fully exploiting the great scientific and technological effort of the GNSS systems. The comparison with different perspectives has allowed us to realize the potential of our idea and the stage of its development more effectively from a simple research concept to something palpable and functional in the field. Which were the aspects you liked the most and which less? The discussion tables set up with experts proved extremely interesting and highlighted the limits and potential of our idea. Unfortunately, coming from the academic and research world we found ourselves dealing with a limited entrepreneurial oversight from us (which is not part of our training and our personal interests) and for this reason we had to accept how distant our idea could be from a possible commercial product or launch base for a start-up. In this sense, it seemed to us that technological solutions from the context of pure and / or applied research require greater mediation in order to be comparable with ideas developed entirely in more industrial contexts where the business footprint is more evident. ASI began supporting this international initiative in 2019. How do you consider the support that has been provided to you by the Agency? After informing us of the outcome of the National competition, ASI participated in a presentation of the idea at the Politecnico di Torino and carefully followed the development of the idea, expressing their interest in the technological solution and possible fields of application. Following the candidacy and the award at the Space Oscar Night of the Galileo Masters, we talked on several occasions with the Agency on how our idea could be valued, and this interview is also one of the results of such fruitful collaboration. Some activities and project proposals promoted by NavSAS and other entities of the Politecnico di Torino are already in the pipeline with ASI, and clearly cooperative positioning could not be missing. Any advice or suggestions for those who want to participate in the Galileo or Copernicus Masters this year? The competition is based on the development of implementable technologies (not only experimental or research concepts) and on possible business solutions connected to them. Our advice for future candidates is to set up a working group that also considers knowledge related to the commercial sphere of the market. It is important however not to focus solely on economic factors, otherwise there is the risk of neglecting the technological and innovative impact, which in our opinion is the fundamental objective of this competition. What goals (personal or professional) do you have for the next year? Giampaolo: I currently work for an important Italian telecommunications company. I hope this professional experience gives me the opportunity to get to know today's communication technologies in-depth to discover tomorrow's. In fact, I consider it as one of my goals looking ahead. Maria Chiara: at the moment I work in the field of artificial vision, applied to industrial quality control and robotics. Innovation and experimentation are the passions that I continue to pursue even after the experience of the Galileo Master and the conclusion of my university cycle. Alex: I obtained my PhD in March 2020, and today I work as a Post-doc researcher at the NavSAS group in the Department of Electronics and Telecommunications of the Politecnico di Torino. Research and its dissemination are my main interests since the end of my master's degree course (together with a disproportionate number of passions and hobbies). Being able to continue on this academic path would be the ideal crowning of a doctorate that enriched me humanly and professionally. Neil: My main goal is to complete my doctorate within the next year. Following which, I plan to continue working on this framework by improving it and applying it in the area of my interest, i.e. navigation of service robotics. What would you tell an investor potentially interested in your innovation? The cooperative positioning concept developed and designed in this case for Android platforms, aims to respond to the need for superior performance in complex scenarios for GNSS systems (such as the urban environment). It does this by taking advantage of the capabilities of the cellular mobile network (and / or Wi-Fi networks) and current GNSS technology integrated in smartphones. CAPS.loc can be conceived as a service offered in the form of Road-Side Unit (RSU) devices that support the low-latency exchange of raw data or alternatively it can be integrated natively in the operating systems of mobile devices in order to limit the demand for additional infrastructure. We feel, to promote a widespread diffusion of multi-platform operating systems such as Android and to equip these systems with CAPS.loc technology in order to offer a distributed cooperative positioning, the verb "to share" needs to be redefined according to a worldwide improvement of our living conditions. The framework has considerable potential and combined with current low-cost technologies; it can guarantee improved performances by exploiting the multiplicity of terrestrial devices rather than that of satellites in orbit thus also promoting greater sustainability of GNSS systems for the future.

WEDNESDAY 24 JUNE 2020

PLATiNO Programme: signed the long term agreement ‣

In the presence of Hon. Riccardo Fraccaro, Undersecretary of State at the Presidency of the Italian Council of Ministers,  of Giorgio Saccoccia,  President of Italian Space Agency (ASI), and of Vito Pertosa, founder of Angel Group , the companies Sitael, Thales Alenia Space Italia, Leonardo and Airbus signed the long-term agreement for the commercialization and industrialization of PLATiNO Programme. MORE...

TUESDAY 23 JUNE 2020

ALBERTO TUOZZI IS THE NEW INTERIM PRESIDENT OF THE GSA ‣

Alberto Tuozzi will hold the interim presidency of the GSA (European GSS Agency), the European Union Agency for the satellite navigation programmes, which is responsible for managing the Galileo and EGNOS navigation systems. MORE...

WEDNESDAY 20 MAY 2020

The Prisma Mission opens to the community ‣

Now that the commissioning phase and the calibration/validation activities have been completed PRISMA is finally ready to open the mission exploitation by the user community. MORE...