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ExoMars 2016 approaching Mars © ESA/ATG medialab

ExoMars ready to sniff out life on Mars

Published: 17th October, 2016 at 14:00
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ESA's mission to search for signs of life that may have existed on the Red Planet enters its final, most crucial stage.

The first mission of European Space Agency’s (ESA) ExoMars programme is set to complete its seven-month journey to the Red Planet today.

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The spacecraft comprises two separate instruments: the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli landing demonstration module. Once in orbit the TGO will perform detailed observations of the Martian atmosphere, searching for evidence of gases indicative of the existence of biological life, such as methane.

Also, at this point the Schiaparelli lander will be ejected from the orbiter towards the Red Planet, entering the atmosphere at 21,000km/h before using a combination of thrusters, aerobraking and parachutes to land on the surface. Once safely on solid ground, the lander will deploy its payload of scientific instruments to take measurements the atmospheric conditions on the surface.

The lander will only remain operable for a few days but the TGO will stay in orbit for five years, waiting for the arrival of a second rover in 2020 that will drill into the surface of the Red Planet.

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Authors

Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.

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