On March 14, the European Space Agency launched the first of a two-part mission to Mars. As part of the ExoMars program, the ESA will put the Trace Gas Orbiter and the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrater Module (EDM) known as Schiaparelli into orbit and put a rover onto the surface.
These two missions “will demonstrate a number of essential flight and in-situ enabling technologies that are necessary for future exploration missions, such as an international Mars Sample Return mission,” according to the ESA’s website on the mission.
They will attempt to search for signs of past and present life on Mars while also investigate how water works on the surface and look closely at the trace gases in the Martian atmosphere.
The Schiaparelli phase of the mission launched last month while the rover is slated to launch in 2018, both supported by the Russian space agency, Roscomos. Schiaparelli lifted off on a Proton launcher.
That caused a little controversy, too, after reports leaked that the mission was nearly ended before it began. The final stage of the Proton lifter, the Breeze-M booster, exploded shortly after sending the Schiaparelli craft towards Mars. Luckily, the craft was far enough away from the booster to avoid getting damaged.
The Schiaparelli part of the mission is expected to reach Mars in about six months.