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ESA’s ExoMars to Land Schiaparelli Demonstrator on the Red Planet

Oct 05, 2016 05:25 AM EDT
ExoMars 2016 Launch
The European-Russian joint mission ExoMars will be entering the Red Planet’s orbit and land the Schiaparelli demonstrator module on its surface this month.
(Photo : David Ducros/ESA via Getty Images)

The European-Russian ExoMars mission is preparing to land the Schiaparelli demonstrator on the surface of the Red Planet. The European Space Agency's (ESA) Schiaparelli lander is scheduled to touch down on Mars on Oct. 19, as the ExoMars spacecraft prepares to enter the planetary orbit. The demonstration lander launched together with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan on March 14 on board a Proton rocket.

"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," Igor Komarov, head of the Russian federal space agency Roscosmos said in a statement.

"We will test the landing technology and the instruments that will explore the surface of Mars... The instruments will examine Mars' atmosphere from the orbit and send the results to scientists," Komarov added.

The landing will take place on Mars' Meridiani Planum and will coincide with the season of dust storms, which will provide scientists an opportunity to study the planet's dust winds. Schiaparelli will demonstrate the capability of ESA to perform a controlled landing on the surface of Mars and test the key technologies that would be needed in subsequent Mars missions.

Schiaparelli is specifically designed to demonstrate ESA's entry, descent and landing technologies, which means it does not have a long scientific mission lifetime. But according to ESA, the module still has limited--but useful--scientific capabilities. It carries the small science payload DREAMS (Dust Characterization, Risk Assessment, and Environment Analyzer on the Martian Surface), which will study Mars' local wind speed and direction, humidity, pressure, atmospheric temperature close to the surface, transparency of the atmosphere, and atmospheric electric fields.

Other scientific instruments include AMELIA, which is for entry and descent science data collection, COMARS+, which will be used for monitoring the heat flux on the back cover of Schiaparelli as it passes through the Martian atmosphere, and INRRI, which is an array of laser retroreflectors that can be used by Mars orbiters to locate the module.

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