The European and Russian space agencies (ESA and Roscosmos, respectively) launched their joint mission on 14 March 2016 to test technology for future exploratory surface missions on Mars.
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, the first in a series of the two space agencies’ collaborative Mars missions, monitors seasonal changes in the planet’s atmosphere composition and temperature in search for evidence of methane and other atmospheric gases that could be evidence of active biological or geological processes.
This is just the first part of the programme whose ultimate goal is to examine the geological environment and search for life on Mars. ExoMars will also help to prepare for other robotic missions and possible future human exploration.
Its second part, scheduled for 2020, will send the 300 kg. ExoMars rover – a robotic vehicle – to the planet, with the landing scheduled for 2021. Capable of drilling as deep as two metres below the surface, it will search for signs of past or present life. The collected data will help to evaluate risks for future manned missions as well as assist in broader studies of Martian geochemistry and environmental science.
The ExoMars rover currently is under development by Airbus Defence and Space, being built at the company’s UK facility in Stevenage, UK. The rover has been named after Rosalind Franklin, a UK scientist and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. ExoMars is the first to honour a woman scientist on its flagship discovery craft.