The European ExoMars mission has checked in with controllers after its launch earlier today aboard a Russian Proton rocket. The acquisition of signal came about 10 hours after launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The ExoMars programme is a joint endeavour between ESA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.
The primary goal of the ExoMars programme is to address the question of whether life has ever existed on Mars. This relates to its name, with the ‘exo’ referring to the study of exobiology – the possible existence of life beyond Earth (sometimes also referred to as astrobiology).
The programme comprises two missions. The first was launched today and consists of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli, an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module. The second is planned for launch in 2018 and comprises a rover and surface science platform.
TGO’s main objectives are to search for evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes. Schiaparelli will test key technologies in preparation for ESA’s contribution to subsequent missions to Mars.
The 2018 rover that will carry a drill and a suite of instruments dedicated to exobiology and geochemistry research. The 2016 TGO will act as a relay for the 2018 mission.