ExoMars, a large Mars mission to search for biosignatures on the Red Planet, launches on 14 March from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the European Space Agency informed on Friday.
ExoMars, a joint astrobiology project by the European Space Agency and Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency), aims to determine whether Mars ever had, currently has, or might in future have life as we know it.
This relates to its name – with the Exo referring to the study of the possible existence of life beyond Earth – exobiology.
An artist’s rendering of the Trace Gas Orbiter (top left), the Schiaparelli module (middle), and the ExoMars rover (bottom right). In this image Schiaparelli is shown in post-separation configuration, encased in its protective heatshield. This sketch is not to scale – the orbiter will operate from about 400km above Mars. (Image: esa.int)
Searching for life in the Universe
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, exobiology is:
“A branch of biology concerned with the search for life outside the earth and with the effects of extraterrestrial environments on living organisms.”
Exobiology and astrobiology have the same meaning.
ExoMars consists of two missions:
– First Mission: the launching in March 2016 of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO and Schiaparelli, an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module (EDM).
– Second Mission: Sending a rover and surface science platform in 2018.
Russia’s Proton rocket has been placed in a vertical position and is being transfered to the pad of the launch complex at the Baikonour spaceport, Kazakhstan, ready for Monday’s launch. (Image: esa.int)
Roscosmos will provide a Proton launcher for both the 2016 and 2018 missions.
The Trace Gas Orbiter’s main goal is to search for evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could be associated with active biological or geological processes.
Schiaparelli will provide the European Space Agency (ESA) with the technology for landing on the surface of the Red Planet with a controlled landing orientation and touchdown velocity – which are vital for the 2018 mission.
The 2018 rover will carry a suite of instruments including a drill. All its equipment is dedicated to exobiology and geochemistry research. According to ESA: “The 2016 TGO will act as a relay for the 2018 mission.”
The prime contractor, Thales Alenia Space Italia, leads the industrial team building the ExoMars spacecraft. Companies from over twenty nations are involved.
Watch the livestreaming of the launch
You can watch livestreaming of the launch from 080:30 GMT (09:30 CET) on 14th, March, 2016.
“Launch is scheduled for 09:31 GMT (10:31 CET) on 14 March with first acquisition of signal expected at 21:29 GMT (22:29 CET).”
Video – ExoMars 2016 Rollout
The Proton Rocket shown in this ESA video will launch the ExoMars 2016 spacecraft. It has been rolled out and placed in a vertical position. If all goes according to plan, it will launch at 09:31 GMT on 14 March from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.