Europe begins Mars site selection
The European Space Agency (Esa) has published the "longlist" of eight sites it is considering as a destination for the ExoMars rover. The 300kg vehicle will be put on the surface of the Red Planet in January 2019 to search for evidence of past or present life. It should operate for at least seven months and will carry a drill to probe up to 2m underground.
The sites are generally clustered in a relatively tight zone close to the equator. They are: Hypanis Vallis, Simud Vallis, Mawrth, Oxia Planum (x2), Coogoon Valles, Oxia Palus and Southern Isidis.
The ExoMars Landing Site Selection Working Group is meeting now in Madrid to begin the process of downselection. The teams that proposed these locations will make their case during the Spanish gathering (two, virtually identical proposals were received for Mawrth).
It is hoped to have a shortlist of no more than four locations in June or July. These will then be intensively studied, calling on new high-resolution pictures and mineralogical data acquired by satellites in orbit at Mars.