Schiaparelli EDM Lander approaches Mars
The European Space Agency (ESA) lander, Schiaparelli, has taken the final preparatory steps on its long journey and is approaching Mars. It is the first ESA probe to approach Mars in 15 years and it is hoped that the lander will fare better than Beagle 2, its predecessor probe which landed on Christmas Day 2003 and promptly vanished due to problems with its solar array.
Schiaparelli’s landing is set for Wednesday 19th October and will be the culmination of a seven month, 310 million mile journey, not to mention the years which went into the original conception, design and construction.
As well as being a long way away, Mars is a perilous place to land. The planet is volcanically active and has regular dust storms which can put a hole in the best laid plans. The Schiaparelli lander is designed to monitor the Martian weather systems as the first part of an ambitious joint European and Russian mission to investigate the possibility of life on Mars.
Schiaparelli is battery powered and will last for only a few days on the surface of Mars. Its primary purpose is to act as a technology tester for the comprehensively more ambitious ExoMars Rover which will launch in 2020. Specifically, the landing system and the descent rockets will be scrutinised for suitability on the upcoming Rover which is a lot heavier than even the Curiosity Rover currently exploring the surface of the Red Planet.
Assuming a successful landing, Schiaparelli will be the next chapter of the human story on Mars which has progressed from a science fiction fairytale to an example of genius engineering in recent years. What is sure is that Schiaparelli and the ExoMars rover are far from the last things we will be sending to Mars – indeed, this is a story which is set to hot up significantly over the coming decade as travel to Mars becomes not only possible, but perhaps even probable.