The Schiaparelli Lander aboard the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ExoMars mission has commenced its three-day descent towards Mars after a seven-month journey from Earth and will be landing soon.
The lander weighs 577-kilogramme and this disc shaped lander is effectively a demonstrater mission meant for preparing for the subsequent mission to the Red Planet. The lander will search for signs of past and present life. The lander separated from the Trace Gas Orbiter and according to information received from the spacecraft things are proceeding as planned.
Signals received from TGO, which is to orbit Mars and sniff out gases around the planet, did not at first contain data on the lander’s onboard status, but the European Space Agency (ESA) later said the link with the craft had been restored. ESA has pegged the separation of the Schiaparelli from the TGO a success.
Schiaparelli, part of the European-Russian ExoMars programme, represents only the second European attempt to land a craft on Mars, after a failed mission by Britain’s Beagle 2 in 2003.
Reaching Mars orbit has its own set of problems and landing on the Red Planet is altogether a different game and that too a rather notorious one considering that even the likes of NASA and Russia’s ROSCOSMOS have a hard time pulling off a successful landing. However, that’s the whole gist of the space game considering that chartering the unknown brings with it problems and finding solutions to these problems makes us the race we are today.
With US President Barack Obama announcing recently that America intends to send people to the planet by the 2030s, and private players like SpaceX’s Elon Musk laying out massive Mars colony plans, our journey towards Mars has just begun and ExoMars is one of the first missions that will provide us with valuable data and knowledge required to successfully land humans on Mars.
The primary goal of ExoMars is to find out whether life has ever existed on Mars. The current spacecraft, TGO, carries an atmospheric probe to study trace gases such as methane around the planet. Scientists believe that methane, a chemical that on Earth is strongly tied to life, could stem from micro-organisms that either became extinct millions of years ago and left gas frozen below the planet’s surface, or that some methane-producing organisms still survive.
Schiaparelli will reach the atmosphere of Mars on Wednesday, and will use a parachute and thrusters to slow its descent from a speed of nearly 21,000 kilometres per hour before touching down on the planet’s surface. Entry, descent and landing will take less than six minutes.
The second part of the ExoMars mission, delayed to 2020 from 2018, will deliver a European rover to the surface of Mars. It will be the first with the ability to both move across the planet’s surface and drill into the ground to collect and analyse samples.
The ExoMars 2016 mission is led by the European Space Agency (ESA), with Russia’s Roscosmos supplying the launcher and two of the four scientific instruments on the trace gas orbiter. The prime contractor is Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales and Finmeccanica.