The countdown has begun for blastoff of the ambitious European/Russian ExoMars 2016 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 14. Its goal is to search for minute signatures of methane gas that could possibly be an indication of life or of nonbiologic geologic processes ongoing today.
Final launch preparations are now in progress. Liftoff of the powerful Russian Proton booster from Baikonur carrying the ExoMars spacecraft is slated for 5:31:42 a.m. EDT (0931:42 GMT), Monday morning, March 14.
You can watch the launch live courtesy of a European Space Agency (ESA) webcast:
The prelaunch play by play begins with live streaming at 4:30 a.m. EDT (08:30 GMT).
The first acquisition of signal from the spacecrft is expected at 21:29 GMT
As launch and post launch events unfold leading to spacecraft separation, ESA plans additional live streaming events at 7:00 a.m. EDT (11:00 GMT) and 5:10 p.m. (21:10 GMT)
Spacecraft separation from the Breeze upper stage is expected at about 10 hours, 41 minutes.
The ExoMars 2016 mission is comprised of a pair of European spacecraft named the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing demonstration lander, built and funded by the European Space Agency (ESA).
Russian is providing the Proton booster and part of the science instrument package.
“The main objectives of this mission are to search for evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes and to test key technologies in preparation for ESA’s contribution to subsequent missions to Mars,” says ESA.
ExoMars is Earth’s lone mission to the Red Planet following the two year postponement of NASA’s InSight lander from 2016 to 2018 to allow time to fix a defective French-built seismometer.
ESA reported late today , March 13, that at T-minus 12 hours the Trace Gas Orbiter has been successfully switch on, a telemetry link was established and the spacecrft battery charging has been completed.
The Proton rocket with the encapsulated spacecraft bolted atop were rolled out to the Baikonur launch pad on Friday, March 11 and the launcher was raised into the vertical position.
ESA mission controller then completed a full launch dress rehearsal on Saturday, March 12.
The ExoMars 2016 TGO orbiter is equipped with a payload of four science instruments supplied by European and Russian scientists. It will investigate the source and precisely measure the quantity of the methane and other trace gases.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.