Proton-M – Proton-M rocket successfully sends European ExoMars mission. The European mission to Mars has officially begun today its seven-month long, 300-million-mile trip to reach the Red Planet. A Proton-M rocket, carrying the ExoMars (Exobiology on Mars) spacecraft, has blasted off to space on time, at 5:31 a.m. EDT (9:31 GMT), from the Site 200/39 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The mission – developed jointly by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Roscosmos State Corporation – is now heading to Mars to search for biosignatures of life on the planet.

The first part of what could be a series of missions – the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter – launched on March 14 from Baikonur in Kazakhstan and I watched nervously after having spent 13 years working on one of its instruments. Needless to say, it was one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking days of my life.
Many possibilities

The mission is an orbiter that will map trace gases in the atmosphere of Mars, over an entire martian year (two Earth years). Of course the methane in the atmosphere doesn’t have to be from microbial life, it could also be caused by cosmic dust or geological processes. ExoMars will test for current geological processes that might be releasing the methane. If all goes well this mission will be followed by a more ambitious ExoMars Rover, designed to test for traces of ancient life, that will launch after 2018.

Many possibilities

The mission is an orbiter that will map trace gases in the atmosphere of Mars, over an entire martian year (two Earth years). Of course the methane in the atmosphere doesn’t have to be from microbial life, it could also be caused by cosmic dust or geological processes. ExoMars will test for current geological processes that might be releasing the methane. If all goes well this mission will be followed by a more ambitious ExoMars Rover, designed to test for traces of ancient life, that will launch after 2018.

The first proposed observations of methane plumes on Mars was made over a decade ago, from Earth. The data required a lot of processing, and led to controversy among planetary scientists.
Roscosmos state corporation said that assembly of Russia’s Proton-M carrier rocket has been concluded ahead of a joint Russian-European launch of a Mars orbiter next week.

The assembly of Russia’s Proton-M carrier rocket has been concluded ahead of a joint Russian-European launch of a Mars orbiter next week, the Roscosmos state corporation said Monday.

“Assembly of the Proton-M space rocket concluded in the Baikonur Cosmodrome assembly building 92-A50, which is to put the Russian-European ExoMars-2016 mission into orbit in mid-March,” Roscosmos said on its website.

Proton-M Carrier Assembled Ahead of Mar.14 Mars Mission – Space Agency

It said the launch was expected from Baikonur’s launch pad number 200 at 09:31 GMT on March 14 (today).

Roscosmos noted that hard docking was performed with the spacecraft’s fourth stage, which includes a Briz-M booster and the ExoMars-2016 orbiter.
Preparations were also made for the carrier rocket to be transported to a fueling pad.

The European Space Agency and Roscosmos agreed to develop the ExoMars program in 2012 to investigate the atmosphere of Mars and explore signs of past life on the red planet.
Next week’s orbital probe launch is expected to be followed by a Mars rover probe in 2018.

 

Proton-M rocket to launch ExoMars 2016 mission from Baikonur Video

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