Space Mission ‘ExoMars 2016’ Launched

Two robotic spacecraft began a seven-month journey to Mars as part of a European-Russian unmanned space mission to sniff out leads to life on the Red Planet.

Russia’s Proton rocket carrying the spacecraft launched into an overcast sky at the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in the Kazakh steppe.

ExoMars 2016, a collaboration between ESA and Roscosmos, is the first part of a two-phase exploration aiming to answer questions about the existence of life on Mars. The aim was to determine “whether Mars is ‘alive'”.

latest space missionsWith its suite of high-tech instruments, the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), is expected to arrive at the Red Planet in October after a journey of 496 million kilometres (308 million miles).

TGO will photograph the Red Planet and analyse its air, splitting off from the Mars lander dubbed Schiaparelli days before entering its atmosphere.

The second phase, a Mars rover due for launch in 2018, seems likely to be delayed over financial concerns.

One key goal is to analyse methane, a gas which on Earth is created in large part by living microbes, and traces of which were observed by previous Mars missions.

Methane, is normally destroyed by ultraviolet radiation within a few hundred years, which implied that in Mars’ case “it must still be produced today”.

TGO will analyse Mars’ methane in more detail than any previous mission, in order to try to determine its likely origin.

One component of TGO, a neuron detector called FREND, can help provide improved mapping of water distribution on Mars, amid growing evidence the planet once had as much if more water than earth.

A better understanding of water on Mars, the fourth planet from the sun, could aid scientists’ understanding of how the Earth might cope in conditions of increased drought.

Schiaparelli, in turn, will spend several days measuring climatic conditions including seasonal dust storms on the Red planet while serving as a test lander ahead of the rover’s anticipated arrival.

The module takes its name from 19th century Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli whose discovery of “canals” on Mars caused people to believe, for a while, that there was intelligent life on our neighbouring planet.

The ExoMars mission derives its name from the scientific term for the search for life beyond Earth exobiology.

Space has been one of the few areas of cooperation between Moscow and the West that has not been damaged by ongoing geopolitical tensions stemming from to the crises in Ukraine and Syria.

ABOUT ‘ExoMars’

ExoMars (Exobiology on Mars) is a large Mars mission to search for biosignatures of Martian life, past or present. It is an astrobiology mission by the European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).

The programme includes several spacecraft elements to be sent to Mars on two launches.

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and an EDM stationary lander called ‘Schiaparelli’ were launched on 14 March 2016.

The TGO will deliver the ESA-built stationary lander and then proceed to map the sources of methane on Mars and other gases, and in doing so, help select the landing site for the ExoMars rover to be launched in 2018 on a Russian heavy lift Proton launch vehicle.

The TGO features four instruments and will also act as the communication relay satellite for the follow up rover.

In 2018 a Roscosmos-built lander is to deliver the ESA-built rover to the martian surface.

The rover will also include some Roscosmos built instruments. The mission and operations and communications is led by ALTEC’s Rover Control Centre in Italy.