Searching for signs of life beyond the Earth is a one of the primary aims of space exploration. The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) is a mission to Mars, which seeks to answer this question.
TGO is a joint European-Russian mission to explore the atmosphere of Mars from orbit, and demonstrate Europe’s technological capability to land a spacecraft on Mars for the first time. The mission launched in March 2016, with Mars arrival and landing on 19th October 2016. Investigating trace gases in the atmosphere is the primary purpose of the mission – gases such as methane, and ozone. Methane is a particularly interesting gas, in that its variable presence in the atmosphere of Mars is not expected; on Earth, the majority of the methane in the terrestrial atmosphere is produced by life. Hence, its presence on Mars opens up a tantalising possibility that this trace gas may be a sign of the presence of (past or present) life on Mars.
The Open University co-leads one of the methane hunting instruments (called NOMAD), and has significant science roles in the Schiaparelli lander that will land on the surface of Mars and operate for a few days. Here, Dr Manish Patel will present the mission and its background to you, and update you on the latest status of the mission and the results to date from the orbiter and the lander.
Manish Patel grew up in south London, and studied his undergraduate degree at the University of Kent in Physics with Space Science. He then went onto study a PhD at the Open University, working on the design and build of science instruments on the Beagle 2 mission to Mars. He then went on to work on the Cassini-Huygens mission to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, and gained a UK Space Agency fellowship working on modelling of the Mars UV environment and developing instrumentation for space mission opportunities. He currently holds a Senior Lectureship position at the Open University, as well as a joint appointment at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Harwell, Oxford. He is co-lead on the NOMAD instrument on the 2016 ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission to Mars, and is part of the science team for several future space instruments.