Update 12:00PM ET: Thanks to an array of telescopes in India, ESA received word that the Schiaparelli lander did deploy its parachute and ignite its thrusters, but could not confirm that the final touch down was successful. The agency hopes to find out soon from data gathered by spacecraft currently in orbit around Mars. Meanwhile, ESA received confirmation that the Trace Gas Orbiter started its engine burn on time, but does not yet know if the entire 139-minute burn was successful. Stay tuned to find out the fate of the ExoMars spacecraft.
Two robotic spacecraft launched by the European Space Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency, or Roscosmos, will finally approach the Red Planet today and attempt some acrobatic feats. The spacecraft took off seven months ago as part of the two agencies’ joint ExoMars mission to determine if there has ever been alien life on our planetary neighbor.
The two spacecraft traveled together until Sunday, when they separated to begin the final phases of their journeys. One of them, called the Trace Gas Orbiter or TGO, will begin slowing down around 9AM ET so it can enter Mars’s orbit. The other vehicle, the Schiaparelli lander, will try to land on the surface intact — a practice run for a future mission that will land a rover on the surface. At 10:42AM ET, Schiaparelli will begin its descent from 75 miles above Mars’ surface, deploying a parachute and firing its thrusters on a six-minute trip down to the surface. Learn more about how these two spacecraft will pull off their stunts here.
ESA will be live-streaming the arrival and landing from 9AM–11:15AM ET today on its webpage, its Facebook page, and on ESA’s Livestream channel. The live stream will resume at 11:44AM ET–12:59PM ET and again from 2:25PM–4:03PM ET as ESA gets new data about how the landing and orbit insertion went. Tomorrow, the ESA will be live-streaming a two-hour press conference on the same webpage starting at 4AM ET.