The first phase of the joint venture between the European Space Agency and Russia, known as ExoMars is expected to be launching on Monday 14th of March. The launch will take place at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with a Proton-M rocket responsible for carrying the scientific payload onto a trajectory to Mars.
This mission will be to launch the Trace Gas Orbiter, which will hold an orbit around Mars in order to analyse the trace elements of the Mars’ atmosphere as well as deploying an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, named Schiaparelli. Despite the initial launch taking only 10 hours to place the TGO on its path to Mars, the satellite will then have to travel for seven months before reaching the red planet.
On the 16th of October, three days before arrival, Schiaparelli will be launched from the TGO, which has the dual duty of carrying scientific instruments to the surface of Mars, but more importantly, to provide data on the module’s performance during entry, descent and touchdown, with no assurance that it will survive the landing on October 19th. The data collected by Schiaparelli will be used to develop the landing module for the ExoMars rover which is expected to launch in 2018.
After detaching Schiaparelli, the TGO will spend almost a year positioning itself into a circular orbit around Mars at a height of 400km. It will then set about cataloguing the gasses of Mars, taking a special interest in those making up less than 1% of the planet’s atmosphere, including methane, water vapour, nitrogen dioxide, and sulphur dioxide. Special interest is placed on methane, which is unexpected to be in Mars’ atmosphere at all which makes the source of the gas all the more useful to discover.
This mission is crucial to understanding more about the red planet, with the results of its analysis bringing us one step closer to putting humans on Mars. Like many space launches recently, this one will be live streamed by the ESA the launch from 8:30 AM GMT, 1 hour ahead of the projected launch time of 9:30 which will doubtlessly prove interesting to any space fanatics out there.