15 things you need to know about the ExoMars launch

1 This morning we saw the first launch of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli lander:

2 The TGO is an unmanned probe being sent to Mars to search for traces of life on the planet, including methane gas.

exomars-2016-artist-impression ESAATG Medialab
An artist’s impression of the TGO and its lander (Image: ESA/ATG Medialab)

3 The Trace Gas Orbiter has been dubbed “a giant nose in the sky” by Jorge Vago, a project scientist on the ExoMars mission.


4 The launch of a proton rocket carrying the probe took place this morning at 9.30am, at Baikonur, Kazakhstan.





 5. It will take slightly more than 10 hours for the rocket to launch the TGO on their trajectory towards Mars.


6 It will then take the TGO seven months to travel 308 million miles to reach Mars. It should reach the red planet on 19 October of this year.

Photo: Getty images

7 Once the TGO reaches Mars, it will enter the planet’s orbit and release the lander Schiaparelli to descend down to the surface of the planet.

The descent of the Schiaparelli lander (Infographic: ESA/ATG medialab)

8 The lander has been named after Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, who mapped the surface of the planet during the 19th century and has craters on the planet also baring his name.

giovanni and his map

9 The lander will approach Mars at 21 000 km an hour, before braking to less than 15 km and hour to land safely at its landing site, the Meridiani Planum, near the equator.

meridiani planum wiki
The view across the Meridiani Planum, as seen by the Mars exploration rover Opportunity (Photo: Wikipedia)

10 Schiaparelli will take readings from its immediate environment, which are expected to be especially dusty as the lander will arrive during the period when dust storms are prevalent.

dust storm
The storms are unlikely to be bad as this though (Gif: The Mummy/ Universal Pictures)

11 The launch of the TGO and its lander are just the first part of the ExoMars mission to find out if there could be life on Mars.

alien gif

12 For the second part of the ExoMars mission, a rover equipped with a drill will be sent to Mars in 2018, to find out if there is microbial life beneath the surface of the planet.

A prototype of the rover from the 2009 Royal Astronomical Society National Meeting (Photo: Mike Peel, www.mikepeel.net)

13 We’re already pretty certain there is methane on Mars: the Mars Express orbiter detected methane gas on the planet in 2004, and in 2014, Nasa’s Curiosity rover also detected spikes in levels of the gas from the planet’s surface.

Nasa’s Curiosity rover (Photo: NASA)

14 This is the first time Britain has funded a project to Mars since the failed Beagle 2 lander mission – the lander’s solar panels failed to deploy after reaching the surface of the planet, rendering it unable to communicate.

Beagle 2 spacecraft
An artist’s impression of the Beagle 2 probe (Photograph: PA)

15 Failures in missions to mars are common, and are sometimes referred to as the Mars Curse. Only 19 missions to the red planet out of 38 have been considered successful…

awkward gif

We wish good luck to everyone involved with the ExoMars mission.

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Philippa Skett

Philippa Skett

Media Officer at Institute of Physics
Philippa was the IOP's media officer
Philippa Skett

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