The next robotic mission to Mars will launch in less than a week, if all goes according to plan.
The first part of the two-phase, joint European-Russian ExoMars mission is scheduled to blast off atop a Russian Proton rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kakakhstan on March 14. A slight delay can be accommodated; the launch window extends through March 25.
The Proton’s payload consists of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and a lander called Schiaparelli, both of which should arrive at Mars in October after a seven-month cruise. TGO will sniff the Red Planet’s air from orbit using four scientific instruments, hunting for possible signs of life.
“The orbiter will perform detailed, remote observations of the Martian atmosphere, searching for evidence of gases of possible biological importance, such as methane and its degradation products,” European Space Agency (ESA) officials wrote in a mission description.