Europe is launching the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) on March 14th to study Mars atmosphere and the possible presence of microbial life on the red planet.

Europe will launch atop proton rocket, a satellite that has as a mission the detection and characterization of the red planet’s atmosphere. The launching will take place at Baikonur in Kazakhstan at 3:31 pm, local time.

The ExoMars/Trace Gas Orbiter mission is a joint mission being developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA/JPL. This mission would be the first in a series of joint missions to Mars for ESA and NASA. Credit: ESA

The detection and study of Mars atmosphere will allow researchers to understand methane, a gas with an unexpected persistence that could hint the presence of microbial life in the planet.

The estimated duration for the proton to boost the TGO is approximately 12 hours, so it finds itself in the right trajectory to go to the planet. European Space Agency operators and controllers in Darmstadt Germany expect to pick up a signal from the satellite a little after it has been launched to its path.

The journey for the TGO from Earth to Mars is seven months, three days before it arrives, specifically on October 16th, the satellite will release a landing module called Schiaparelli

Walter Cugno, a lead European contractor at Thales Alenia Space, told BBC News “ We’ve had a good launch campaign to date, no real issues, all the preparation milestones have been achieved”

Once the Schiaparelli lands on the planet’s surface on October 19th, it will continue to operate some science instruments. But the main focus on this small module is to see how it performs during the entry, descending and landing on the planet.

The speed the Schiaparelli will hit when its descending to the planet is around 21,000 km per hour.  Using a heat shield, parachute and rockets to slow the pressure while it goes down. It will hit surface cushioned by a material on the lower part of the module.

These mechanisms will be used in the future, if successful, to land the ExoMars.

The second step for the Exomars is in 2018, although European Space Agency sees the date with doubt, the most likely date for the launch will be on the year 2020.

Source: BBC