ExoMars probe arrives at Mars, lander unresponsive

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter sucessfully reached Mars. Image courtesy of ESA
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter sucessfully reached Mars. Image courtesy of ESA.

The ExoMars mission has successfully arrived into Martian orbit, however its Schiaparelli lander may have failed to complete a soft landing.

Developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), in cooperation with its Russian counterpart Roscosmos, the ExoMars mission consisted of two parts.

The first, and more important of these, the Trace Gas Orbiter arrived in Martian orbit following a 139 minute-long burn of its primary engine.

The second part, a lander called Schiaparelli, was intended to perform a soft landing, as a demonstration of landing technologies for a future rover mission planned for 2020.

Both of these parts had been launched together on a Russian Proton rocket earlier this year on March 14.

If all had of gone to plan, the lander would have used a heat shield, followed by a parachute, and finally retrorockets to slow its approach to the surface.

While the ESA received telemetry from this lander during its decent to the Martian surface, the signal was lost before a successful landing could be confirmed.

This has led to fears that the probe may have crashed, destroying its communications equipment.

Nonetheless, the ESA is remaining positive and will continue to analyze the received landing telemetry, as well as continue to search for signals from Schiaparelli on the ground.

“If Schiaparelli reached the surface safely, its batteries should be able to support operations for three to ten days, offering multiple opportunities to re-establish a communication link,” the ESA explained in a press release.

Regardless, of the success of the Schiaparelli lander, the primary mission of the Trace Gas Orbiter remains on track.

Circling Mars, it will analyze the planet’s atmosphere for the signs of certain gases such as methane.

The presence of such trace gases can provide scientists with insights into the planet’s geology as well as even potentially serve as evidence for existing life on Mars.

The findings of this year’s ExoMars mission will be extended by a second, more advanced mission in 2020, which aims to send a rover to drill 2m into the Martian soil in order to further the search for life.