After a seven month flight, ESA’s ExoMars mission arrives at the Red Planet today, October 19. You can watch live here as the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli lander make their historic entry into orbit and landing.
The action starts at 9:09am ET (1:09pm GMT) when TGO fires its main engines for 134 minutes for its Mars Orbit Insertion. That burn should put the orbiter in a highly elliptical orbit which will be refined over the next few months.
Then, at 10:42am EDT (2:42pm GMT), the Schiaparelli lander will begin its six-minute entry, descent and landing through Mars’ atmosphere, coming at about 13,000 mph (21,000 kph). The aeroshell will slow the craft enough for a parachute to deploy, and at about 1 km above the surface, three hydrazine thrusters will ignite and slow Schiaparelli until it is about 6.5 feet (2 meters) above the surface. The lander will then be dropped to the Martian surface.
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ESA has put together a video of what a successful landing looks like:
The ExoMars 2016 mission is a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos. ExoMars will continue the search for biological and geologic activity on Mars, which may have had a much warmer, wetter climate in the past. The TGO orbiter is equipped with a payload of four science instruments supplied by European and Russian scientists that will investigate the source and precisely measure the quantity of the methane and other trace gases.
Methane is interesting because it can be produced by biology, volcanoes, natural gas and hydrothermal activity. TGO will investigate how methane is produced on Mars, as well as make follow up on measurements from NASA’s Curiosity rover and other instruments and telescopes that have detected methane on Mars.
The 2016 lander will carry an international suite of science instruments and test European entry, descent and landing (EDL) technologies for the 2nd ExoMars mission, which will bring an advanced lander to Mars in 2018.
The battery powered Schiaparelli lander is expected to operate for up to eight days until the battery is depleted.