In Brief

Lift off for Europe and Russia's joint mission to Mars

Satellite's search for methane gas will show whether life existed on the red planet

European and Russian space agencies have launched a joint mission to Mars to search for gases that could indicate the existence of life on the Red Planet.

At 3.31pm local time (9.31am GMT), a Proton rocket carrying the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter satellite blasted into the atmosphere from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It is due to reach Mars in October and, after a year getting into the correct orbit, 250 miles above the planet, will spend five years observing the land below. 

The probe's delicate scientific instruments will examine the composition of gases in the Martian atmosphere, in particular the methane that the US's Curiosity rover has found present in tiny amounts. On Earth, the vast majority of methane is produced by living organisms. Scientists hope to learn more about how it is apparently produced and replenished on Mars, including the possibility of past or present living organisms on the planet.

Meanwhile, three days after its arrival, the satellite will release a small module, called the Schiaparelli, to land on the planet and carry out scientific experiments. 

The successful touchdown of the Schiaparelli is vital to the second stage of the project, which will see the agencies attempt to land a rover on the planet in 2018.

Executing a successful landing has proven the undoing of many previous Mars missions and the trial lander is designed to demonstrate that new technologies – including a descent radar and improved computers – mean a future rover mission would have a greater chance of success.

For Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, the success of this mission would represent an end to a disheartening run of failures, says the BBC. The country has launched 19 missions to Mars since 1960, all but a handful of them outright failures. Its last Mars mission to go according to plan was a flyby and capsule landing in 1973.

Recommended

Russian roulette for McDonald’s, Unilever and Renault
The flagship McDonald's on Pushkin Square in Moscow
The latest on . . .

Russian roulette for McDonald’s, Unilever and Renault

Inside Cairo’s City of the Dead
The tombs of the Caliphs in el-Arafa necropolis
In Depth

Inside Cairo’s City of the Dead

‘The great inflation swindle’
Today's newspaper front pages
Today’s newspapers

‘The great inflation swindle’

Women ‘benefit more from hugs than men’
Two women hugging
Tall Tales

Women ‘benefit more from hugs than men’

Popular articles

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths
Vladimir Putin has previously deployed ‘extreme measures’ to crush opposition
Why we’re talking about . . .

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?
Vladimir Putin
Why we’re talking about . . .

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?

Depp v. Heard: what the latest battle has revealed
Amber Heard
In Depth

Depp v. Heard: what the latest battle has revealed

The Week Footer Banner