The search for life on Mars continues!
ExoMars is looking up! The European Space Agency’s Ministerial Council has approved the funding needed to finance the 2020 mission, which will deliver a European rover and a Russian surface platform to Mars. ExoMars is a two-part mission, conducted jointly with Russian space agency Roscosmos to explore the possibility of life on the Red Planet.
The first part sent the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) into orbit around Mars to detect any evidence of methane in its atmosphere; this gas could have implications for the existence of life on Mars. In the second phase, the golf-cart-size robotic rover will follow up by drilling below Mars' dusty surface to directly detect any living organisms. Both missions are led by Thales Alenia Space as prime contractor, and will hopefully enable us to answer David Bowie’s existential question: “Is there life on Mars”?
Although the TGO’s main objective is to search for evidence of methane and other trace gases in the atmosphere, it will also be used to relay communications from planned NASA surface rovers, and above all from ESA’s ExoMars rover, scheduled to start operating from the Martian surface in 2021.
TGO getting comfy in Mars orbit… and the view is amazing!
Built by Thales Alenia Space, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter arrived at the Red Planet on October 19, 2016. Since then, it has been circling Mars, testing out an unprecedented array of instruments, and taking spectacularly sharp photographs of the landscape using its Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS).
TGO will now use an aerobraking maneuver for nine to twelve months to circularize its elliptical orbit, placing it into a circular orbit around Mars at an altitude of about 250 miles (400 km). Its primary science mission is scheduled to start towards the end of 2017, when it will begin studying gases in the Martian atmosphere, paving the way for ExoMars 2020. Stay tuned for the next Martian chronicles!
© Thales Alenia Space/Master Image Programmes