Canada and ExoMars: The story in pictures

ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

Credit: ESA–D. Ducros

Launch: March 14, 2016
Arrival: October 19, 2016

Mission Status: Active

ExoMars 2016's Trace Gas Orbiter, the first of two European-led missions, is currently studying the atmosphere of the red planet. Scroll through the images below to learn more about how Canada is involved in Europe's mission to Mars.

New Hubble Portrait of Mars

Did life ever exist on the red planet? The answer to that question is one of science's greatest mysteries. (Credits: NASA, ESA, The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), M. Wolff (Space Science Institute))

Curiosity's selfie

From the early astronomers who studied the reddish-hued star with their telescopes, to the more than 40 space probes sent to Mars, humans have relied upon robotic explorers to learn about Mars until we are able to travel there ourselves. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Schiaparelli separating from the Trace Gas Orbiter

In October 2016, the first of two European-led missions arrived at Mars to search for clues to the tantalizing question: are we alone?

The ESA's ExoMars 2016 is a two-part mission:

  • an eye in the Martian sky, known as the Trace Gas Orbiter, a satellite that is investigating the Martian environment, and
  • a probe named Schiaparelli, designed to test technology for landing on Mars.

Unfortunately, an issue occurred during Schiaparelli's descent and it did not land correctly. (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

Testing ExoMars 2016's communications antenna

The maple leaf on Mars: Canada is the only non-European member of the ESA. Thanks to a cooperation agreement between Canada and the ESA, Canadian companies were able to bid on contracts for the mission. The Trace Gas Orbiter carries Canadian technology—a communication antenna subsystem built by the Canadian company MDA. (Credit: ESA – B. Bethge)

Photo of Livio

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is also funding two Canadian scientists to take part in the mission.

Dr. Livio Tornabene (Western University) is a Canadian Co-Investigator on the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) imager onboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). TGO's goal is to characterize and determine sources for trace gases, particularly methane, in the Martian atmosphere.

"Some heavily cratered terrains on Mars appear to be potential sources for methane gas. Why is methane so important? It might signal active geological processes occurring beneath the surface of Mars, or even the presence of subsurface life! I hope to understand what role the craters may have played in the production of subsurface methane, whether they are providing subsurface habitats for past or extant life, or providing the physical and chemical setting for the mineral reactions and conduits that would produce and release methane gas to the surface."

Dr. Livio Tornabene

(Credit: Livio Tornabene)

Dr. Ed Cloutis

With CSA funding, Dr. Ed Cloutis (University of Winnipeg)‎ will investigate the composition of dust in the Martian atmosphere.

"I am a Co-investigator on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter NOMAD science team. We will be using the NOMAD instrument mainly to search for signs of biogenic gases in the Mars atmosphere. My interest is using the instrument to determine the composition of dust in the Mars atmosphere. This will allow us to detect minerals lofted into the atmosphere that may otherwise be undetectable on the surface. By determining the composition of both gases and dust in the atmosphere, we hope to determine whether Mars was habitable in the past and whether life, past or present, still exists on the planet. What NOMAD can do complements what we can do on the surface with rovers and landers. In preparation for this, we are using our Mars environment chamber facility at the University of Winnipeg to examine the spectral properties of minerals indicative of biology and habitability so that we will be in a better position to analyze data from the NOMAD instrument."

Dr. Ed Cloutis

(Credit: University of Winnipeg)

The Mars environment chamber at the University of Winnipeg. This is where scientists expose minerals to Mars-like surface conditions to assess how and whether they change when exposed to Mars conditions. The results of these experiments allow researchers to better map the surface geology of Mars and identify past habitable environments. (Credit: University of Winnipeg)

The European Space Agency's ExoMars rover

In 2020, a ESA rover will land on Mars. It will roam the red planet with the help of a chassis and electronics built by MDA, and navigation cameras built by another Canadian company, the Neptec Design Group. (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

ExoMars 2016 arriving at Mars

Together, the ExoMars 2016 and 2020 missions will give us a better understanding of the Martian atmosphere, provide clues as to whether life ever arose on Mars, and help test technologies for a future Mars sample-return mission. (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)