This past Sunday in the Netherlands, the European Space Agency revealed to the public a full-sized model of the Schiaparelli landing module which is set to touch down on Mars on October 19 as part of the agency’s ExoMars space programme.
A joint mission of the NSA and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), the ExoMars rover will search for evidence of methane and other atmospheric gases that could indicate the presence (past or present) of life on the red planet.
“With the launch of ExoMars 2016, ESA is now seeking to join NASA in becoming only the second space power to deliver a lander and complete a successful mission on the Martian surface,” says the ESA, which provided a public demonstration of the upcoming landing of the Schiaparelli, a 600 kg module decked out with a 12-metre-wide parachute.
Starting its Mars descent at the breakneck speed of 1700 km/h, the spacecraft with then deploy its parachute to slow things down to a more manageable 240 km/h. At approximately one km above Mars’ surface, the canopy will be jettisoned and the descent capsule’s thrusters will take over, hopefully guiding the module to a safe landing.
“Very soon, on October 19, we are waiting for this along with the European Space Agency, everything is going according to plan – ExoMars will enter Mars orbit and start exploring Mars’ surface, after that the landing module will descend,” says Igor Komarov, head of the Russian federal space agency Roscosmos, in a statement.
The Schiaparelli lander is being aimed at Meridiani Planum, a flat plain near Mars’ equator –and close to the current location of NASA’s Opportunity rover. “Three sites near the equator are currently being investigated for the ExoMars 2020 mission, which will deliver ESA’s first planetary rover,” says the ESA.
Schiaparelli comes equipped with a science payload, fancifully named DREAMS (Dust Characterization, Risk Assessment, and Environment Analyzer on the Martian Surface), which will investigate climatic features on Mars such as local wind speed, humidity, pressure, atmospheric pressure and temperature as well as atmospheric electric fields.
The NSA is still in celebration mode after the successful crash of the Rosetta spacecraft into the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the hurtling ice chunk that it had been orbiting for the past two years – and upon which it deployed the Philae lander, the first successful landing of a spacecraft on the surface of a comet. “Thanks to a huge international, decades-long endeavour, we have achieved our mission to take a world-class science laboratory to a comet to study its evolution over time, something that no other comet-chasing mission has attempted,” said Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s director of science.
Launched back in 2004, Rosetta traveled almost eight billion kilometres throughout the solar system, completing six orbits of the Sun, three Earth flybys, one Mars flyby and three asteroid encounters. The mission to Churyumov–Gerasimenko had a Canadian connection – three of the ground stations used to communicate with Rosetta were built by Saskatoon telecommunications company SED Systems, which together with the help of the Canadian Space Agency won the contract to build the three stations in 2001.
Below: Launching ExoMars!