European probe starts 3-day descent to Mars surface — but there's a glitch

In this artist impression provided by the European Space Agency, ESA, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter , TGO, right, and its entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, Schiaparelli, center, approaching Mars. The separation is scheduled to occur on Sunday Oct. 16, 2016, about seven months after launch. Schiaparelli is set to enter the martian atmosphere on Oct. 19, 2016 while TGO will enter orbit around Mars. The probe will take images of Mars and conduct scientific measurements on the surface, but its main purpose is to test technology for a future European Mars rover. Schiaparelli's mother ship will remain in orbit to analyze gases in the Martian atmosphere to help answer whether there is or was life on Mars. (ESA ATG/medialab via AP)

After a seven-month, 35-million-mile journey from Earth, a Mars lander on Sunday departed its mothership and was dispatched towards the red planet's surface to test technologies for Europe's planned first Mars rover, which will search for signs of past and present life. The disc-shaped 1,272-pound Schiaparelli lander separated from spacecraft Trace Gas Orbiter at 10:42 a.m. EST, as expected, starting a three-day descent to the surface. Ground controllers, however, reported a lapse in data communication with the probe break and were working to fix the issue.

We have to receive and process this telemetry (data) first and after that we can say what has happened. But on the side of (Schiaparelli) I would say that the separation was a success.

Paolo Ferri, head of mission operations at the European Space Agency

Schiaparelli's main goal is to test entry and landing gear and technology for a subsequent rover which will mark the second phase and highlight of the ExoMars mission. Thirteen years after its first, failed, attempt to place a rover on Mars, the high-stakes test is a key phase in Europe's fresh bid to reach our neighboring planet's hostile surface, this time working with Russia.

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Costly mission

The cost of the ExoMars mission to the European Space Agency, including a second pphase in 2020, is expected to be about 1.3 billion euros, or $1.4 billion.


ExoMars(Exobiology on Mars) is a two-part Martian astrobiology life searching project and joint mission of the European Space Agency(ESA) and Russian Federal Space Agency(RFSA). ExoMars goals are to search for signs of past and present life on Mars, investigate how the Martian water and geochemical environment varies, investigate atmospheric trace gases and their sources and by doing so demonstrate the technologies for a future Mars sample return mission.

European Space Agency

The European Space Agency is an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to the exploration of space, with 22 member states. Established in 1975 and headquartered in Paris, France, ESA has a worldwide staff of about 2,000 and an annual budget of about €5.25 billion/ US$5.77 billion(2016).ESA's space flight programme includes human spaceflight(mainly through participation in the International Space Station programme); the launch and operation of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon; Earth observation, science and telecommunication; designing launch vehicles; and maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana.