ExoMars mission – level 3
Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. A Proton rocket stands ready for launch. Inside, two robotic probes destined for the Red Planet. Together they make up the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission.
The rocket will launch at 3:31 p.m. local time on Monday or 9:31 a.m. GMT. Around 10 hours later, the rocket will separate and the probes will continue their journey towards Mars. If all goes to plan, that journey should take seven months, reaching the planet in October.
Three days out from the edge of the Martian atmosphere, the two probes will separate. An entry, descent and landing demonstrator module known as Schiaparelli will drop towards the surface. There, it will test technology for future missions and make environmental observations for a short period of time before its batteries die.
The Trace Gas Orbiter, meanwhile, will enter the planet’s orbit, spending a year making manoeuvres to lower its altitude to 400 kilometres. By December 2017, it will be ready to begin analysing the make-up of the Martian atmosphere. In particular, scientists want to understand the presence of methane gas, a sign that life may once have existed on the Red Planet.
Difficult words: Proton (a Russian rocket type), launch (to go up), probe (an unmanned spacecraft which collects information), destined (going to a place), GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), entry (entering the atmosphere of Mars), descent (to fall), demonstrator (a thing that shows how things work), altitude (the height of the object).
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