Is there life on Mars? Europe’s alien-hunting lander prepares to touch down on the red planet

#Mars #AlienIs there life on Mars? Europe’s alien-hunting lander prepares to touch down on the red planet : A European spacecraft nearing the end of its journey to Mars is ready to send a lander to the surface of the red planet. The European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander on board the ExoMars spacecraft, is scheduled to land on Mars on October 19. The ESA probe is part of an ambitious mission to search for evidence of life on Mars.

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The European Space Agency (ESA) probe was launched on March 14 and has almost completed a 310 million mile (500 million km) voyage across the solar system. It is due to deploy the small Schiaparelli lander on October 16. Three days later, the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) will brake into an elliptical orbit around Mars while Schiaparelli enters the Martian atmosphere and parachutes down to the surface.

The 2.4m wide disc-shaped craft will aim for Meridiani Planum, a flat region near the equator. Its main mission is to pave the way for the ExoMars Rover, a hi-tech six-wheeled laboratory equipped with life-seeking instruments to be launched in 2020.

Schiaparelli will test the rover’s descent and landing system – which employs a heat shield, parachute, and retro rockets. It also carries a small instrument package that will record wind speed, humidity, pressure and temperature at the landing site – and take electric field measurements that may shed light on how Martian dust storms are triggered.

Orbiter flight director Michel Denis said: ‘Uploading the command sequences is a milestone that was achieved following a great deal of intense cooperation between the mission control team and industry specialists.’

The spacecraft is being controlled from the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. However, many of its systems are automatic and not dependent on direct commands from Earth. Schiaparelli’s command sequences are time-saved to ensure the lander can carry out its mission even when out of contact.

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