European spacecraft begins final descent to the red planet

Herman Weaver
October 20, 2016

The Schiaparelli lander will analyze atmosphere of Mars and will also search for signs of life on the red planet.

Mission control never heard from Beagle 2 after its landing attempt, but scientists previous year revealed new imagery from Mars orbit apparently showing the lander sitting on the surface with its power-generating solar arrays still partially folded.

The larger spacecraft - called the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) - has just completed a seven-month journey from Earth as part of the European-Russian ExoMars programme.

ExoMars is a joint space mission of European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos). They departed from Earth nearly seven months ago, traveling about three hundred ten million miles. The Mars lander will make its final descent to the planet's surface during the next 48 hours.

The ESA released the Mars Express image in celebration of its ExoMars mission arriving at the Red Planet this month.

The rover, expected to touch down in 2020, will be equipped to move about Mars' surface and drill into the ground to find traces of past and present life.

The Trace Gas Orbiter will monitor the UHF transmission from Schiaparelli as it descends towards the Red Planet and relay in real-time to Earth, the most important data measured by Schiaparelli.

Meanwhile, the Trace Gas Orbiter will reach Mars on October 19, where it will orbit the planet collecting data on Mars' atmosphere that will help determine whether life could have existed there.

One of the main roles played by Schiaparelli will also include testing the ExoMars Rover's parachute and retro-rocket landing system. It will be investigating the planet's surface for several days.

It will enter an eccentric orbit next Wednesday, October 19, just as Schiaparelli reaches the atmosphere at an altitude of some 121 km and a speed of almost 21,000 kph. It will join three other NASA orbiters and an Indian spacecraft flying around Mars. This is a process that takes a relatively short period of time.

Once this is achieved, in early 2018, it will begin its work of analysing the Mars atmosphere from about 400km for methane. Meet the scientists and engineers working out how to overcome the problems associated with sending humans 56 million kilometres from earth.

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