Rocket to Mars launches today

Blog Category: 
General Space

Perhaps this is a little known space mission but it’s important for humans exploring our Solar System.

A rocket will depart Baikonur, on Planet Earth, tonight, Broken Hill time approx. 8pm (9.31 GMT) and will head for Mars. You can watch the event live on the Internet (go to the ESA website).

The Europeans and Russians have combined enormous space agency muscle to determine whether life ever existed on Mars. We know it’s unlikely for life as we know it to exist on Mars today but scientists think there was a great opportunity for life on Mars in the first billion years after its formation.

They are looking for the gas methane which would suggest life at some time in the past.

The mission, unmanned, is taking robots into space.

Part one  of the mission begins today.

Part two begins in 2018.

In part one, a robot will orbit Mars and search for trace gases (the Trace Gas Orbiter) while at the same time, another module (called Schiaparelli) will help us Earthlings learn how to properly descend and land onto the Red Planet. This is test for future Mars missions. The lander will have enough battery power to do some robotic survey work too, a separate bonus for the mission.

Schiaparelli will land in October this year after a seven month trip. It will parachute in from a height of about 11km. It will robotically collect data for only a few days.

Part two of the mission is in 2018 when the European rover ExoMars is landed onto Mars. It will drill down to two metres and analyse samples.

The Russians at this time will also put a surface platform on Mars to perform many tasks, including long term climate monitoring. The 2018 mission components will also be robotic and will be landed in a location thought to have had water in its past.

Image Credits: ESA/ATG medialab. Artist’s impression of the orbiter (top left), the Schiaparelli entry/descent test module (middle) and the ExoMars rover (bottom right) – the 2018 mission!