European, Russian spacecraft lands on Mars

Did it survive the drop to the Red Planet?

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist
Headline Goes Here ESA/ATG medialab

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and its entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, Schiaparelli, approaching Mars.

The European Space Agency dropped a Martian probe on the Red Planet and put another atmosphere-sniffing robot into orbit on Wednesday.

Now ESA mission team members are now waiting to find out if the ExoMars' Schiaparelli module is operational and in one piece after the landing.

The probe separated from the Trace Gas Orbiter or TGO spacecraft this past Sunday. After parting, the orbiter continued to ready for orbit, while the lander zoomed on for its landing Wednesday.

Schiaparelli dropped onto the Martian surface in six minutes, using a heat shield, parachute and thrusters to slow down from more than 1,300 mph to a near stop at 2 meters above the planet’s surface.

TGO will try to communicate with the probe on Mars to determine if the spacecraft survived the journey down.

The spacecraft touched down just before 11 a.m. on Wednesday, but minutes later the probe had not been heard from.

After more than 10 minutes of silence, ESA ended the planned transmission period. They will get another chance later Wednesday when TGO passes above Schiaparelli again.

“Still no signal at GRMT, this is not unexpected due to a very faint signal,” tweeted the space agency.

Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency is a partner on the mission that launched in March 2016 from the Baikonur Cosmodrom in Kazakhstan.

NASA has successfully landed seven missions on Mars. This is the first European and Russian Martian landing.

Watch an animation of the descent to Mars below:

With a short life, the lander will only operate on the Martian surface for a few days, but it will also collect data during its six-minute drop down, measuring atmosphere pressure, surface temperature and a camera will capture the landing area below.

If the spacecraft did survive the fall it will now get right to work acting as a Martian meteorologist, measuring wind speed and direction and humidity. Finally, it will measure electric fields on the planet’s surface.

The idea is that Schiaparelli’s data will help find out what causes the electric forces, lifting dust and creating massive dust storms on the Red Planet.

While Schiaparelli was making its epic landing, TGO performed an engine burn inserting it into Mars orbit.

TGO will sample atmospheric gases for signs of biological life on Mars and image surface features, possibly created by volcanoes.

The final act of the ExoMars mission is a rover, scheduled to launch in 2020, loaded with a drill and an onboard lab.

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