Monday, March 14, 2016

European Space Agency’s ExoMars Mission to the red planet

Europe and Russia have launched a joint mission to explore the atmosphere of Mars and hunt for signs of life on the red planet.

The unmanned ExoMars probe — a collaboration between the European Space Agency and Roscosmos — took off Monday from a base in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian rocket. 

Mission controllers in Darmstadt, Germany, said they began receiving a signal from the spacecraft about 11 hours after launch, after it had successfully separated from the rocket and deployed its solar wings to continue on its journey. It is expected to reach Mars in October.

The probe’s Trace Gas Orbiter will analyze methane and other gases in the Martian atmosphere to determine where they are coming from, said Paolo Ferri, ESA’s head of mission operations.

Methane is created by biological or geological activity and breaks down within a relatively short period of time once it reaches the atmosphere.

Launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) will study methane and other rare gases in the Red Planet's atmosphere, and also drop a lander on its surface.
Controllers received a signal from the probe late on Monday, confirming it was in good health.

Analysis of tracking data indicated that the 4.3-tonne orbiter was on a good trajectory as well.

The European Space Agency's Micah Schmidt, speaking from the organisation's operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, announced the good news: "We have AOS - acquisition of signal; we have a mission. And for the second time, Europe is going to Mars. So, Go, Go Go! ExoMars!"

Esa's director general, Jan Woerner, added: "We are on the way to Mars and this is really a very nice experience, to have this inspiring mission now realised. Let's go forward to Mars and see what we can do."

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