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Space exploration Swiss camera set to capture life on Mars

In 2021, a European rover is set to roll over the surface of Mars in the search for traces of life. At its heart is a Swiss camera, currently being tested in (almost) Martian conditions. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)

In a warehouse near Basel, scientists have set up a plot of Mars-like land. On a prototype of the ExoMars Rover, they are testing the high-tech camera developed by the Space Exploration Instituteexternal link at Neuchâtel, which will deliver high-resolution 3D images taken from less than 15cm. 

Initially in collaboration with NASA, which pulled out for budgetary reasons, the ExoMars missionexternal link is now being carried out in partnership with the Russian space agency. 

The programme comprises two missions. The first launched in March 2016 and consists of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli, an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module. The second is planned for launch in 2020 and comprises a rover and surface science platform. 

TGO’s main objectives are to search for evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes. 

While the rover is not expecting to bump into any little green men, it could detect potential microorganisms, living or fossilised, in the soil – if it survives the landing.

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