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We’re going to Mars, again

With the memory of the Schiaparelli probe’s crash still fresh in our memory, mankind remains steadfast in its pursuit of landing more hardware on Mars. To that end, the European Space Agency just finalized a deal with Thales Alenia Space for the second half of the ExoMars mission, dubbed ExoMars 2020, which hopes to land yet another rover on the Red Planet.

ExoMars 2020 aims to arrive at Mars, land and deploy a climate monitoring station and accompanying rover, and perform tests in the hopes of finding traces of life that may have one existed on the now barren planet.

What’s particularly interesting about the 2020 mission is the rover itself, which will be equipped with a drill capable of digging up to two meters into the surface. Scientists believe that the telltale signs of Martian life may still exist down there, and that once we have the right tools in place on the planet, we may stumble upon something truly amazing.

Right now, the Trace Gas Orbiter, which was part of the first half of the ExoMars mission along with the ill-fated Schiaparelli probe, is preparing to conduct its first tests of the gasses surrounding the planet. If certain gasses are present, like methane which is produced from decaying biological matter, it could give researchers a hint that there’s something to be found beneath the dusty surface.

ExoMars 2020 is slated to launch in July of that year, though a final landing site hasn’t yet been decided upon. Oxia Planum, which may have once been at least partially covered in water, is currently at the top of the list.