ESA/ATG medialab
Artist’s impression of ESA’s ExoMars rover (foreground) and Russia’s science platform (background) on Mars.

When the ExoMars 2020 mission touches down on the Red Planet, it will most likely be at Oxia Planum.

After several years of discussion, the scientists selected Oxia Planum as the optimal site, according to an announcement a meeting at the National Space Centre in Leicester, UK.

This flat area near the Martian equator was recommended for the ESA-Roscosmos rover and surface science platform because it provides the best chances for finding signs of life, balanced against the need for a safe landing zone.

Of particular interest to scientists are clay-bearing rocks, which date from almost 4bn years ago. These could have formed at the bottom of the lake and may hold the biomarkers of ancient life the scientists are hoping for.

Credit: IRSPS/TAS; NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University
Oxia Planum texture map.

ExoMars 2020 is the next part of the ExoMars missions: a rover and landing platform that will be sent to Mars as part of a joint mission between the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos. The rover and platform consist of instruments for measuring the planet’s dirt and atmosphere and will separate just before landing.

The mission’s main goal is to find evidence of organic molecules deep in the Martian dirt, and perhaps biosignatures, chemical signs of life.

The ESA-led rover and Roscosmos-led surface science platform will launch in the 25 July–13 August 2020 launch window on a Proton-M rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, and cruise to Mars in a carrier module containing a single descent module, arriving at Mars 19 March 2021.