The ESA ExoMars probe was successfully launched to Mars on 14 March at 11:31 a.m. The ExoMars mission consists of a Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the entry, descent and landing demonstrator research module, Schiaparelli. The Finnish Meteorological Institute has contributed instruments to the Schiaparelli lander that observe the pressure and humidity of the Martian atmosphere.
The EXOMARS probe was successfully launched immediately as the launch window opened on 14 March at 11:31 a.m. EET. The launch took place at Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome, using a Russian Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities' Proton-M rocket. Today, at approximately 10:13 p.m. EET, the Proton rocket's Breeze-M phase will have detached, and the ExoMars probe will continue its journey away from Earth's gravitational field to a Mars-bound orbit.
Once the detached from the Proton's Breeze-M phase, the ExoMars probe will be transferred to the ESA ground support organisation's control, who use their network of telescopes to communicate with the probe. ExoMars will perform a systems check and direct its primary antenna towards Earth. The first ExoMars/TGO data signal is expected to be received by the ESA telescopes at 11:29 p.m.
Martian atmospheric pressure and humidity measured with Finnish instruments
The Schiaparelli lander is equipped with atmospheric observation instruments, parts of which are the FMI-developed instruments that atmospheric pressure and humidity. The Finnish Meteorological Institute has previous experience in operating similar devices, including NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover (2012–) and the Mars Phoenix lander (2008), as well as on the joint ESA-NASA Huygens probe that landed on Saturn's moon Titan in January 2005.
The primary goal of the ExoMars mission is to survey the existence of methane and other low concentration gases in the Martian atmosphere from orbit. An undisputed discovery of methane would be a signal of either primitive organic activity or geological activity. The 600 kg Schiaparelli lander is ESA's way to primarily confirm and verify its ability to perform a controlled and precise Martian landing.
Seven months to Mars
It takes approximately seven months to get to Mars. The Schiaparelli lander will separate from the TGO and guided towards its landing site three days before arrival on Mars. It will hit the upper Martian atmosphere at 21,000 km/h and use its heat shield, parachutes, retro-rockets and impact dampening structures to land on the surface of the Red Planet. Schiaparelli uses battery power to gather data from the Martian surface for a few Martian days. The TGO will be directed to a Martian orbit, where it is planned to study the planet for five years.
The FMI-designed Martian atmospheric pressure and humidity instruments are based on Vaisala Oyj's sensor technology. Suomen Optomekaniikka Oy, Skytron Oy and Ideal Engineering Oy also participated in developing the instruments.
Head of Research Ari-Matti Harri, tel. +358 50 337 5623, email@example.com
Senior Researcher Maria Genzer, tel. +358 29 539 4724, firstname.lastname@example.org
Researcher Timo Nikkanen, tel. +358 40 764 8091, email@example.com
ESA website: http://exploration.esa.int/mars/
FMI space researchers follow the ExoMars mission on Twitter @FMISpace