An ambitious instrument for ESA’s ExoMars 2020 mission has passed its testing in conditions resembling those on the Red Planet. It will now be transported to Russia for its acceptance review, followed by integration onto the Kazachok Surface Platform, scheduled for launch this time next year.
At about 8 x 8 x 20 cm plus a trio of antennas, ESA’s Lander Radioscience experiment, or LaRa for short, is a bit bigger than a 1-litre milk carton. But it functions as a high-performing transponder, tasked with maintaining an extremely stable direct radio-frequency link between Earth and Mars for a full martian year – two Earth years – once ExoMars has touched down.
Proposed by the Royal Observatory of Belgium, LaRa has been developed through ESA’s PRODEX programme – focused on developing science experiments for space – and funded by the Belgian Space Policy Office.
The latest testing of LaRa took place in ESA’s Mechanical Systems Laboratory (MSL) at the Agency’s ESTEC technical heart in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. This is a small-scale version of the adjacent ESTEC Test Centre, able to perform a wide range of space-simulating tests, but serving spacecraft instruments, subsystems or mini-satellites rather than full-size missions.
Following vibration testing on one of the MSL shaker to simulate the harsh conditions of launch, atmosphere re-entry, descent and Mars landing, LaRa was then placed inside a thermal vacuum chamber for nearly two weeks to perform functional testing in hot and cold conditions… [More at link]