October 21st, 2016

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter views Schiaparelli landing site

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has identified new markings on the surface of the Red Planet that are believed to be related to ESA’s ExoMars Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing technology demonstrator module.

Schiaparelli entered the martian atmosphere at 14:42 GMT on 19 October for its 6-minute descent to the surface, but contact was lost shortly before expected touchdown. Data recorded by its mothership, the Trace Gas Orbiter, are currently being analysed to understand what happened during the descent sequence.

In the meantime, the low-resolution CTX camera on-board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) took pictures of the expected touchdown site in Meridiani Planum on 20 October as part of a planned imaging campaign.

Estimates are that Schiaparelli dropped from a height of between 2 and 4 kilometres, therefore impacting at a considerable speed, greater than 300 km/h. The relatively large size of the feature would then arise from disturbed surface material. It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact, as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full. These preliminary interpretations will be refined following further analysis.

October 20th, 2016

ExoMars lander may have crashed on Mars after parachute and retrorocket problems

The European space probe Schiaparelli may have crash landed on Mars after suffering problems releasing its parachute and firing retrorockets to slow its descent, it emerged today.

At a briefing this morning, the European Space Agency (ESA) said there had been technical failings in the final 30 seconds before landing.

Schiaparelli’s touchdown was supposed to prove that the ESA had the capability to land on Mars ahead of the second part of the ExoMars mission to place a rover on the planet in 2020, which will drill into the surface looking for signs of life on the Red Planet.

But there were fears that the problems could impact future funding. European ministers will meet later this year to decide whether to give the green light to the 2020 mission.

Andrea Acoomazzo, ESA Spacecraft Operations Manager, said that everything had gone to plan for the first five and a half minutes of descent but then events ‘diverged from what was expected’ during ejection of the parachute and heat shield.

October 19th, 2016

ExoMars TGO reaches Mars orbit while EDM situation under assessment

ExoMars approaching Mars

ExoMars approaching Mars

The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) of ESA’s ExoMars 2016 has successfully performed the long 139-minute burn required to be captured by Mars and entered an elliptical orbit around the Red Planet, while contact has not yet been confirmed with the mission’s test lander from the surface.

TGO’s Mars orbit Insertion burn lasted from 13:05 to 15:24 GMT on 19 October, reducing the spacecraft’s speed and direction by more than 1.5 km/s. The TGO is now on its planned orbit around Mars. European Space Agency teams at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, continue to monitor the good health of their second orbiter around Mars, which joins the 13-year old Mars Express.

The ESOC teams are trying to confirm contact with the Entry, Descent & Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), Schiaparelli, which entered the Martian atmosphere some 107 minutes after TGO started its own orbit insertion manoeuvre.

October 19th, 2016

Watch ExoMars arrival and landing

Live coverage of ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter arrival and Schiaparelli landing on Mars

19 October – landing and arriving at Mars

The ESA TV programme will be broadcast on this page in two parts on 19 October:

15:44–16:59 GMT / 17:44–18:59 CEST
18:25–20:03 GMT / 20:25–22:03 CEST

October 17th, 2016

Ready for the Red Planet

Artist's impression depicting the separation of the ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, named Schiaparelli, from the Trace Gas Orbiter, and heading for Mars. Copyright: ESA/ATG medialab

Artist’s impression depicting the separation of the ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, named Schiaparelli, from the Trace Gas Orbiter, and heading for Mars.
Copyright: ESA/ATG medialab

This week, ESA’s ExoMars has just a single chance to get captured by Mars’ gravity. The spacecraft and the mission controllers who will make it so are ready for arrival.

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is on a multiyear mission to understand the methane and other gases in Mars’ atmosphere at low levels and could be evidence for possible biological or geological activity.

The 3.7 tonne mothership is carrying the 577 kg Schiaparelli lander that will test key technologies in preparation for ESA’s 2020 rover mission.

The pair have almost completed their 496 million km journey, and are now speeding towards a critical stage: releasing the lander on Sunday and the lander’s descent and touchdown next Wednesday, at the same time as the main craft begins circling the planet.

“They are now on a high-speed collision course with Mars, which is fine for the lander – it will stay on this path to make its controlled landing,” says flight director Michel Denis at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

“However, to get the mothership into orbit, we must make a small but vital adjustment on 17 October to ensure it avoids the planet. And on 19 October it must fire its engine at a precise time for 139 minutes to brake into orbit.

“We get just a single chance.”

October 6th, 2016

How Schiaparelli will descend and land on Mars on 19 October 2016 ESA

Visualisation of the ExoMars Schiaparelli module entering and descending through the martian atmosphere to land on Mars.

Schiaparelli will enter the atmosphere at about 21 000 km/h and in less than six minutes it will use a heatshield, a parachute and thrusters to slow its descent before touching down in the Meridiani Planum region close to the equator, absorbing the final contact with a crushable structure.

The entire process will take less than six minutes: the animation has been sped up.

Schiaparelli is set to separate from the Trace Gas Orbiter on 16 October, after a seven-month cruise together through space, and will enter the atmosphere on 19 October at 14:42 GMT.

For an overview of the key timings and altitudes corresponding to the events portrayed in this animation see the Schiaparelli descent sequence graphic:…

Both Schiaparelli and the Mars scenery in this animation were computer generated.

August 12th, 2016

The European Space Agency will land on Mars in October ESA

Nearly 13 years after the British spacecraft Beagle 2 went missing on Mars, the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli module will touch down on the red planet — assuming everything goes according to plan, that is. The module, which launched with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter in March, will serve primarily as a test bed for the descent and landing systems and is expected reach the surface on October 19th.

Unlike NASA’s Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars for four years now, Schiaparelli’s mission is a short and immobile one. The module relies on a battery source that is expected to last somewhere between two and eight Martian sols. (At about 24 hours and 37 minutes, a sol is slightly longer than an Earth day.) The ESA plans to land Schiaparelli in the Meridiani Planum, which NASA’s other long-running rover Opportunity explored in 2004. During it’s short time on the surface, Schiaparelli will study the electrical fields that trigger Martian dust storms and weather patterns, then upload the data back to the Trace Gas Orbiter to transmit back to Earth.

March 14th, 2016

Mars TGO mission heads for Red Planet on methane quest ESA

The satellite, called the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), lifted off from Baikonur in Kazakhstan at 09:31 GMT.

The probe will investigate whether the methane in the world’s atmosphere is coming from a geological source or is being produced by microbes.

If all goes well, the two space powers expect to follow up this venture with a rover, to be assembled in the UK, which will drill into the surface.

That could launch in 2018, or, as seems increasingly likely, in 2020.

March 8th, 2016

European-Russian Mission to Mars Launches Next Week ESA

Artist’s concept of Europe’s Trace Gas Orbiter releasing the Schiaparelli landing demonstrator near Mars.
Credit: ESA

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.

May 21st, 2015

Mars mystery: ExoMars mission to finally resolve question of life on red planet euronews

The ExoMars 2016 mission will try to answer one of the toughest and most intriguing questions of space exploration: is there or has there ever been life on Mars?

Getting to Mars, landing there safely, and then beginning the search for life is a huge scientific and technical challenge for the huge team behind ExoMars, a joint ESA and Roscosmos project to search for life on Mars. It is the world’s biggest ever mission to the red planet.

The first spacecraft is almost ready and Maurizio Capuano, the ExoMars 2016 Program Manager, accompanied Euronews’ on a privileged close encounter with the probe at Thales Alenia Space’s facility in Cannes, southern France.

“This is ExoMars 2016 which next year will land on the red planet. The lower part will go into orbit around Mars, putting out its solar panels to get energy from the sun, and the upper part is the lander which will land directly on the Martian surface completely autonomously,” he explained.