On Wednesday 20 October 2016, the joint European and Russian ExoMars mission arrived at Mars after a 500 million km journey from Earth.

The primary goal of the ExoMars programme is to address the question whether life does exist or has ever existed on Mars. Further, similarities to earth are of interest.

Next to the now completed 2016 mission, ExoMars includes the 2020 mission, where ESA wants to place a very expensive rover on Mars. This six-wheeled vehicle will drill beneath the surface to search for life.

TGO - the mothership

The mothership of the 2016 mission is called the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO).

It represents the main interest for ESA.

After releasing Schiaparelli, the TGO entered an elliptical orbit around the Red Planet and, equipped with a suite of science instruments, will study the environment of Mars from there.

Its main objectives are to search for evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could signal active biological or geological processes. This would give a clue about the activities going on on Mars at the moment.

Schiaparelli – the robot that was supposed to land on Mars

While sending TGO into orbit was successful, Schiaparelli, the robot that was supposed to land on Mars, did not behave as expected.

After it had successfully completed most steps of its 6-minute descent from the mothership through the atmosphere of Mars, contact was lost around 50 seconds before the supposed landing.

Data indicates that its parachute opened too early. The rockets that were supposed to guarantee total standstill appeared to fire for too short a time.

The European Space Agency has not yet conceded that Schiaparelli crashed.

The European Space Agency - ESA

The European Space Agency, ESA, has 22 Member States, including the UK.

It provides Europe’s gateway to space. Next to ExoMars, its mission to Mars, ESA is also planning a mission to Mercury.

Created in 1975, ESA has the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to Europe and the world.