The Mars rover explores the Red Planet. © ESA

OHB on its way to Mars

Final sprint for the Exomars Mission

When the InSight probe landed safely on Mars in the Elysium Planitia plain at 20:52:59 Central European Time on November 26, 2018, the OHB staff were among those waiting with baited breaths. This is because OHB is also keeping a close eye on the Red Planet and will soon be sending the results of its own expertise on the ExoMars mission’s journey to Mars. This marks the beginning of a particularly exciting time for two OHB engineers. Mark Fittock and Georgios Tsakyridis had already been involved in the Mars Mole for the InSight mission and are now keeping their fingers crossed for the OHB team working on ExoMars.


ExoMars is a joint project being pursued by ESA and the Russian space agency Roskosmos to search for traces of life on the Red Planet. The ExoMars program is divided into two missions: the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and an entry and landing module were launched in 2016. As a subcontractor to Thales Alenia Space, OHB System AG was responsible for the TGO’s core module, the largest German contribution to the first mission.
The second part of the mission is now entering its final phase: a carrier module being built by OHB in Bremen will be bringing the Russian landing module to Mars in 2020. The Rover is located inside the landing module. When the landing module lands on Mars, it will unfold, allowing the Rover to leave it while the fixed station remains at the landing site. It is carrying Russian and European experiments on board, including those contributed by OHB subsidiary Antwerp Space. The carrier, which is currently being fitted with the solar panels in the integration hall in Bremen, is almost finished. “We are in the final sprint. After the integration of the solar panels, the carrier will undergo extensive testing and is scheduled to be shipped in March. Everything is going according to plan,” says ExoMars carrier project manager Dr. Andreas Peukert.


In addition to parts of the carrier, OHB is also supplying key elements for the Mars Rover. In this connection, it will be contributing its expertise in selecting, preparing, distributing and analyzing soil samples taken from a depth of up to two meters. To this end, OHB experts at the company’s “Optics and Science” space center have developed a high-resolution camera, a complex system built into the Rover for preparing and distributing the samples and contributions to the RAMAN/RLS laser instrument for mineralogical analyses on the planet’s surface.
To explain this more precisely: the Rover is equipped with a drill. The analytical laboratory drawer (ALD), the sample preparation and distribution system (SPDS) and various instruments are located inside the Rover. The SPDS and the ALD are enclosed in a gas-tight ultra clean zone (UCZ) to protect the ExoMars instruments from biological and chemical contamination on the earth. “OHB Oberpfaffenhoffen is responsible for the development, production, integration and qualification of the ALD structure and harness and the SPDS. We are currently working very eagerly on the delivery of the last remaining components,” says Christiane Bergemann, ALD/SPDS project manager.


The two OHB engineers Mark Fittock and Georgios Tsakyridis were just as delighted as their former colleagues from the German Aerospace Center. Before joining OHB, they worked on the Mars Mole at DLR in Bremen. “It was pretty exciting and I broke out into a cold sweat while watching the livestream of the landing,” says Mark Fittock, who now works as an engineer in the Predevelopment, Space System Studies & Proposals Department at OHB. During his time at DLR, the 34-year-old was involved in the development of the HP3 heat flow and physical properties package. This probe is fitted to an extendable robot arm, the “mole”, which will be digging into the Martian soil down to a depth of five meters. The aim is to gain new insights into how the interior of Mars and rocky planets in general are structured and have developed. The probe also measures the amount of heat flowing to the surface from the core of the planet. This data should provide new knowledge of the anatomy of our neighboring planet and even provide clues as to how the solar system originated.

Georgios Tsakyridis, Electrical AIT Integration & Test Engineer, joined in the excitement on November 26 live at the NASA Control Center in Pasadena, California: “For five minutes there was absolute silence in the control center.” The, cheering broke out and “of course there was a big party afterwards.”
Mark Fittock and Georgios Tsakyridis are now pleased to be on board at OHB and are keeping their fingers crossed for their colleagues in the Exploration department, hoping that the ExoMars mission proves to be a success. They would also like to take a look some time at the OHB integration hall, where the carrier module for ExoMars is being given its final polish. For, you see, Mars is close to their hearts.

Georgios Tsakyridis and Mark Fittock (from left) © OHB

More articles: