Europe's ExoMars mission enjoys orchestral fanfare

Rousing soundtrack for Red Planet jaunt

Every proper space mission deserves a full orchestral soundtrack, so we're pleased to report that the European Space Agency (ESA) has delivered in spades for its short vid overview of the forthcoming ExoMars mission.

The mission is slated to launch between 14–25 March 2016 from Baikonur Cosmodrome, atop a Proton-M lifter. On board for the ride will be the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli "entry, descent and landing demonstrator module" (EDM).

The former's task is "to gain a better understanding of methane and other atmospheric gases that are present in small concentrations (less than 1 per cent of the atmosphere) but nevertheless could be evidence for possible biological or geological activity".

Artist's impression of the TGO. Pic: ESA

Mission to sniff: The TGO. Pic: ESA / ATG medialab

Working at an altitude of 400 kilometres, the spacecraft's four instruments will sniff out said gases, as well as carrying out surface imaging and mapping "shallow subsurface water ice" to a depth of one metre.

Graphic showing the final stage of Schiaparelli's landing

What could possibly go wrong? Pic: ESA

Schiaparelli, meanwhile, will thunder into the Martian atmosphere at 21,000 km/h, and descend by parachute to within around 1.2km above the surface, at which point three hydrazine engine clusters fire to slow it to a genteel 7 km/h. At two metres above the ground, the engines shut down, and the final shock of landing "will be cushioned by a crushable structure built into module", ESA assures.

The TGO and Schiaparelli were mated earlier this week at Baikonur.

Schiaparelli being trasported at Baikonur. Pic: ESA / B. Bethge

Gently does it. Pic: ESA / B. Bethge

As the above snap demonstrates, Schiaparelli's hydrazine fuel makes transporting it a potentially hazardous business. ESA explains: "The team ... wear yellow protection suits and carry gas masks (in the black bags). In addition, one of the team (second from right) carries a portable hydrazine detector." ®

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