The first of two joint ESA-Roscosmos missions to Mars has begun a seven-month journey to the Red Planet, where it will address unsolved mysteries of the planet’s atmosphere that could indicate present-day geological – or even biological – activity.
The Trace Gas Orbiter and the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing demonstrator lifted off on a Proton-M rocket operated by Russia’s Roscosmos at 09:31 GMT (10:31 CET) this morning from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
Following separation of Proton’s first and second stages, the payload fairing was released. The third stage separated nearly 10 minutes after liftoff.
The Breeze-M upper stage, with ExoMars attached, then completed a series of four burns before the spacecraft was released at 20:13 GMT (21:13 CET).
Signals from the spacecraft, received at ESA’s control centre in Darmstadt, Germany via the Malindi ground tracking station in Africa at 21:29 GMT (22:29 CET), confirmed that the launch was fully successful and the spacecraft is in good health.
The orbiter’s solar wings have also now unfolded and the craft is on its way to Mars.
“It’s been a long journey getting the first ExoMars mission to the launch pad, but thanks to the hard work and dedication of our international teams, a new era of Mars exploration is now within our reach,” says Johann-Dietrich Woerner, ESA’s Director General.
“I am grateful to our Russian partner, who have given this mission the best possible start today. Now we will explore Mars together.”
Igor Komarov, General Director of the Roscosmos State Space Corporation, adds, “Only the process of collaboration produces the best technical solutions for great research results. Roscosmos and ESA are confident of the mission’s success.”
“We’re not only looking forward to the world-class science data that this mission will return, but it is also significant in paving the way for the second ExoMars mission, which will move our expertise from in-orbit observations to surface and subsurface exploration of Mars,” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science.