Wednesday, March 16, 2016


ExoMars is a "Programme to investigate the Martian environment and to demonstrate new technologies paving the way for future Mars sample return missions."[1] The European Space Agency successfully launched their two craft on March 14 on a Russian Proton M rocket and has received signals indicating that the launch was successful. The two craft will continue to travel together for the next seven months and will then separate for two unique tasks shortly before arrival at Mars. The orbiter will measure trace gasses in the Martian atmosphere and will particularly look for gasses such as methane that could be evidence of life on the red planet. The orbiter will also seek to identify the source of these gasses.

Three days before orbit insertion, the two space-craft will separate allowing the Schiaparelli lander to aerobrake, deploy a parachute, use its heatshields, and land in the Meridiani Planum. This area is known to contain "hematite, an iron oxide that, on Earth, almost always forms in an environment containing liquid water."[2]

The Meridiani Planum region is significant because it has been explored by the Opportunity Rover[3] and a good deal of information about potential locations of water and minerals has been determined. If significant amounts of water can be located, it may be possible to use that water to generate electricity and rocket-fuel so that a spacecraft might make a return voyage. To this point, all missions to Mars have been one-way trips. This is what ESA means when they say that this mission could “pave the way for future Mars sample return missions.” ESA, NASA, SpaceX, and the entire scientific community will be watching this mission for the next several months.

Works Cited:
ESA: Robotic Exploration of Mars; “ExoMars.”
Science News, March 11, 2016
Wikipedia, “Meridiani Planum.”

[1] Science News, March 11, 2016; "ExoMars Mission to Search for Signs of Life on the Red Planet"; accessed 2016-03-16;
[2] ESA: Robotic Exploration of Mars; “ExoMars”; accessed 2016-03-16;
[3] Wikipedia, “Meridiani Planum,” accessed 2016-03-16;

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