The European Space Agency (ESA) on Monday began the first stage of a two-part mission to explore Mars and hunt for signs of life on the red planet.
The unmanned ExoMars probe – a collaborative project with Russia’s state Roscosmos corporation for space activities – was launched aboard a Russian rocket from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and is expected to reach Mars in October.
The probe consists of an orbiter that will analyse gases in the atmosphere of Mars, and a small lander that will put a rover on the planet’s surface in 2018.
Senior Adviser to ESA’s Director of Science Mark McCaughren, speaking at the ESA Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, said the Trace Gas Orbiter will hope to try to measure where methane on Mars is coming from.
Europe’s Beagle 2 probe disappeared during the landing process in 2003, a setback which the ESA is keen to avoid this time.