Well, here we go. Years of work and million of miles travelled, but it all comes down to this. Today at 10:48am EDT (3:48pm BST), ESA and Russia’s ExoMars lander, named Schiaparelli, will attempt to touch down on the surface of Mars. The mission launched in March, but after a journey of seven months, it will take just six minutes to enter the atmosphere and reach the surface.
All the action from mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, will be streamed live by ESA, starting at 9am EDT (2pm BST) today. You can catch all the action here, and we’ve embedded the live stream below.
Confirmation of the landing is expected by about 11am EDT (4pm BST), thanks to an Indian radio telescope that will try to capture a signal from the lander.
To get to the surface in a region called Meridiani Planum, Schiaparelli will use a heat shield to survive the journey through the Martian atmosphere. Parachutes will then reduce its speed, before a set of thrusters bring it to just 2 meters (6.5 feet) above the surface, where it will then free-fall the remaining distance, using a crushable structure to survive the impact.
The lander will be taking images on the way down, but it has no camera to take images of the surface, which seems a bit of a missed opportunity considering the magnitude of this mission.
Schiaparelli should last between two and eight Martian days, which are 40 minutes longer than Earth days, before its batteries run out.
At around the same time as the landing, ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) is scheduled to enter orbit around Mars. This spacecraft will attempt to analyze the amount of methane on Mars over the next few years, which may have biological origins.
Although Schiaparelli does have a few scientific instruments on board, the main goal is to simply test how to land on Mars. This same technique will be used to land the much more advanced ExoMars rover on the surface in 2021, which will search for signs of past or present life.
Europe has never landed on Mars. Their last attempt, the Beagle 2 lander in 2003, ended in disaster when the lander failed to operate on the surface.