Destination Mars: Probe readied for Red Planet landing

Story highlights

Schiaparelli will test Red Planet's electric fields

It is a test flight for future ESA Mars mission

Fleet of craft now looking for signs of Martian life

CNN  — 

It has separated from mother and is now facing a baptism of fire as it heads towards the surface of the Red Planet.

The Mars lander Schiaparelli is due to touch down Wednesday as part of the ExoMars missions – a joint venture between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian state corporation Roscosmos.

Schiaparelli’s companion ship – the Trace Gas Orbiter – will stay in orbit, trying to find out more about methane and other gases on Mars that could be signatures of life, or geological processes.

In 2014, NASA’s Curiosity rover detected a large spike in the amount of methane. ESA scientists hope that the ExoMars missions can shed light on what might be causing it.

Schiaparelli is designed to be a test flight for another ExoMars venture – a 2020 launch that will send a rover to Mars. But Schiaparelli will also operate for a few days, measuring wind speed, temperature, humidity, pressure and the strength of electric fields on the planet’s surface. It will also collect a series of images in the final stages of descent.

Engulfed by dust storms

Senior science adviser at ESA, Mark McCaughrean, told CNN that the lander was entering a world of dust storms. It is thought that dust particles bumping into each other create a static charge that lifts even more dust, creating clouds that can engulf the whole planet. It is this electric field that they want to investigate, McCaughrean explained.