Mars will be home to a new resident later this month. The European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli module will float down to Mars October 19 after launching from the ExoMars orbiter and a three-day solo journey to the surface. The ESA unveiled a full-size model of the module this past weekend at an event in the Netherlands.
Schiaparelli was launched back in March, along with an orbiter that will sample the Martian atmosphere for trace gases. When the module reaches Mars’s surface in just over two weeks, it will spend its short life collecting data on the Martian climate and the planet’s electric fields. After a few days, the module will go dark, but the ESA plans to use reflectors attached to Schiaparelli as a reflective signpost of sorts for future missions.
On Sunday, the ESA put its model on display, complete with its protective heat shield and the parachute that will deploy during the spacecraft’s descent. Schiaparelli’s parachute, nearly 40 feet in diameter, will slow the 1,300-pound module from more than 1,000 mph to about 150 mph. Schiaparelli will ditch its heat shield cover during the descent through the Martian atmosphere, which will take just six minutes:
Mars certainly won’t be crowded any time soon, but there are a lot of groups planning to send spacecraft, and eventually humans, to the planet. The ESA’s ExoMars rover, the next phase after Schiaparelli, will launch in 2020. China will also launch a rover bound for Mars in 2020.
NASA has been testing its own Mars parachutes for a manned Mars lander, though it may be awhile before they’re needed. And, of course, there’s SpaceX’s grand plans for a manned Mars trip launching by 2025.