The first mission of the ExoMars programme, scheduled to arrive at Mars in 2016, consists of a Trace Gas Orbiter plus an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, known as Schiaparelli. The main objectives of this mission are to search for evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes and to test key technologies in preparation for ESA’s contribution to subsequent missions to Mars.
The Orbiter and Schiaparelli will be launched together in March 2016 on a Proton rocket and will fly to Mars in a composite configuration. By taking advantage of the positioning of Earth and Mars the cruise phase can be limited to about 7 months, with the pair arriving at Mars in October. Three days before reaching the atmosphere of Mars, Schiaparelli will be ejected from the Orbiter towards the Red Planet. Schiaparelli will then coast towards its destination, enter the Martian atmosphere at 21 000 km/h, decelerate using aerobraking and a parachute, and then brake with the aid of a thruster system before landing on the surface of the planet. From its coasting to Mars till its landing, Schiaparelli will communicate with the Orbiter. Once on the surface, the communications of Schiaparelli will be supported from a NASA Relay Orbiter. The ExoMars Orbiter will be inserted into an elliptical orbit around Mars and then sweep through the atmosphere to finally settle into a circular, approximately 400-km altitude orbit ready to conduct its scientific mission.