With ExoMars, Europe approaches the Red Planet

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Only a few hours before that, for the first time, a vehicle of the European Space Agency arose on Mars .

                                                                                                                

Vue d’artiste de la sonde TGO et son module atterrisseur, Schiaparelli, au moment de la séparation le 16 octobre

Thriller for the European Space Agency, ESA and its Russian counterpart Roscosmos. Their baby, Schiaparelli, is en route to ask on planet Mars, which would be a first for them. Only the Americans have, for now, managed to “amarsir.”

Shortly after 16: 30 pm this afternoon, the conical shaped tagine module of 600 kg will enter the Martian atmosphere to 120 km altitude. Six minutes later, at 16 h 48, after the ejection of its heat shield, deployment of his parachute and trigger its retros, it will hit the Martian soil, a vast high plateau near the equator.

Confirmation of the conduct of these risky phases will only come later. radio telescopes installed in India could pick weak signals ten minutes later, as they did Sunday at the separation Schiaparelli its cargo probe, Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). More likely, this confirmation could come to 18 hours of two other probes orbiting Mars, Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. TGO should also return recorded data during the descent and landing during the night of Wednesday to Thursday.

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This probe has itself done in from 15 hours a delicate maneuver to position on a trajectory in orbit around Mars. Braking more than two hours should the place on very elongated ellipses, on which it will circle Mars in four days. Brushing the top of the Martian atmosphere, it will restrain each pass, which, without consume fuel, will allow him to settle more circular orbit about 400 kilometers above sea level in a year … .

The two phases of this afternoon are risky. The Europe in 2003 was, for example, lost contact with his rover Beagle 2, placed on the ground but inactive. Insertions into orbit will also not always gone well, with three failures since 1993 for Japan and the United States and five success (for India, the US and Europe) .

This mission ExoMars 2016 will precede another, more ambitious in 2020: put a vehicle capable of drill up to 2 meters deep Martian soil and analysis samples preserved any photochemical destruction. With the hope of put trace evidence of organics inaccessible until now. The same year, the Chinese have also planned to ask, as the Americans with a new rover, Curiosity identical to that explores the Red Planet since 2012. Previously, in 2018, NASA has deposited instruments for sound inside the planet with the mission Insight.

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Schiaparelli was primarily a technological mission, aimed prove European expertise on atmospheric re-entry. Scientific data will nevertheless be recorded during the descent and the two and a half days of energy independence to the ground. It will weather data such as temperature, pressure, density of the atmosphere or wind speed. On the ground, first, original measurements of the surrounding electric field will be made. As in a desert land, the friction of the sand grains together hard electric charges, which gradually fall into altitude and create a field of several thousand volts per meter. This field, accelerating electrons could explain destruction surface of any organic material.

From late 2017, TGO also try to provide elements on history of Mars, which a priori had the same childhood as Earth. Sensors will include decide debate on the presence or absence of traces of methane in the atmosphere. As this gas can be of biological origin, the subject warms the spirits. Its presence on Mars appears to be rare in any case, and discontinuous, which could also be explained by the physico-chemical phenomena. TGO, for the detection of other hydrocarbons, help decide between the two hypotheses.

                        

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