Boosted off planet Earth by a Russian Proton rocket, a European-built space probe departed for Mars on Monday, beginning a mission to test future landing technologies and search for methane, a potential signature of microbial life.
It will take more than 12 hours from liftoff of the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter until engineers verify the mission is on track for Mars after a series of critical in-space maneuvers by the Proton rocket’s Breeze M upper stage.
A powerful Russian Proton booster launched from Kazakhstan at 0931:42 GMT (5:31:42 a.m. EDT) Monday with the first part of a multibillion-dollar Mars mission led by the European Space Agency. An upper stage engine fired four times over 10 hours to send the Mars orbiter and lander away from Earth.
Europe’s ExoMars orbiter, due to begin a seven-month journey to the red planet March 14, has met its Russian Proton rocket booster as launch preparations enter the final stages at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Stymied by Russian government dithering that has indefinitely grounded a launch on a modified Soviet-era missile, Iridium officials say that SpaceX agreed to move up to July the first of seven Falcon 9 launches from California with the company’s next-generation mobile communications satellites.
The first launch from Russia’s new cosmodrome in the country’s Far East will not occur until at least early 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last week, in a widely-anticipated delay after reports of botched construction and corruption beleaguering the spaceport project.