At 3.42pm IST, the ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter is expected to begin releasing its Schiaparelli lander towards the equator of the Red Planet, and you can watch it as it happens online.
The imminent landing of Schiaparelli on Mars will be an exciting and nervous time for European Space Agency (ESA) scientists, as it marks the first return of a European craft to the Red Planet since the ill-fated Beagle 2 mission in 2003.
While the intentions of this mission are to run a number of measurements of the planet’s atmosphere and meteorological conditions, the secondary intention is to make sure all of the landing equipment works before sending an ESA rover to Mars in 2020.
As of two days ago, Schiaparelli successfully disengaged from the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) just outside the planet’s atmosphere and is now on track to begin its descent towards the surface at 3.42pm.
Once it begins its descent, it will then travel at speeds of 21,000 kph, taking only six minutes for it to touch down on the planet with a relatively soft landing (depending on whether the mission is a complete success).
— ESA_Schiaparelli (@ESA_EDM) October 19, 2016
‘Nerve-wracking six minutes of terror’
Speaking with The Telegraph, the mission’s co-principal investigator Dr Stephen Lewis of the Open University has described this brief window as a “nerve-wracking six minutes of terror” as the ship will be out of ESA’s control.
Following the landing of the craft, TGO’s four scientific instruments will then spend the next five years – until 2022 – investigating where the location and nature of sources that produce these gases is.
Schiaparelli will have a very short lifespan as far as landing craft go as the probe’s instruments are only designed to last a number of days due to its short battery life.
Thankfully, the whole landing will be livestreamed by the ESA, meaning you can check in on the status of the craft along with the anxious scientists and engineers.
Tomorrow (20 October), the ESA will give an update on the craft’s status when it will hopefully be able to send back the first collection of images taken during its descent to the surface of the planet.