Academics from The Open University (OU) will be among those who are eagerly anticipating the first ever successful landing by European space scientists on Mars.
The team of scientists from the OU are part of the European Space Agency (ESA) ExoMars Mission, which will discover if methane gas exists in the atmosphere and below the surface. This will aid scientists in answering the question of whether life has, or still, exists on the closest neighbour to earth.
On Sunday October 16, 2016, the Schiaparelli Lander will jettison from the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO); by 16:00 (BST)* on Wednesday October 19, 2016, Schiaparelli should have landed marking the first successful European mission to the surface of Mars.
OU space scientist, Dr Manish Patel, is Co-principal Investigator for the NOMAD (Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery) Instrument on board the Orbiter; he said:
ExoMars will prove that Europe has the expertise and technology to land on the surface of Mars, and will hopefully help to answer the question of whether there is (or has been) life on our closest neighbour. This could have profound implications throughout society.
It has been a long journey towards this momentous point, just before we arrive on Mars. We have faced repeated financial, political and technical challenges, but have persevered as a team to make things work. To have been so involved in such a mission has been a fantastic experience.
Dr Patel and his team at the OU worked specifically on UVIS, a miniature spectrometer for detecting and quantifying trace gas and aerosol concentrations, which is part of the NOMAD Instrument. NOMAD consists of three spectrometers, two infrared and one ultraviolet, to perform high-sensitivity orbital identification of atmospheric components, including methane.
OU space scientist, Dr Stephen Lewis, is Co-principal Investigator for the AMELIA team that will receive initial data returned by Schiaparelli during its descent; he said:
Landing on Mars has always been a perilous endeavour, not least because Mars has an active atmosphere and weather.