Scientists are waiting to find out if the ESA's Schiaparelli spacecraft has successfully landed on the surface of Mars. The spacecraft, which is part of the ExoMars 2016 mission, was deployed earlier on Wednesday (19 October), having separated from its partner spacecraft a few days ago.
After separating from the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), Schiaparelli was captured by Mars' gravitational field, after which it was woken up ready to perform its landing. Scientists at the ESA got confirmation of this from the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope in Pune, India.
In order to complete a successful landing, Schiaparelli had to undergo maximum heating on its descent before deploying its parachute to slow down. The front heat shield protecting the spacecraft was jettisoned, and it ignited its thrusters to land on Mars.
Thrusters were supposed to switch off just before landing in order to avoid scorching the surface with the heat plumes. Ideally, this would be followed by touch-down on Mars.
The signal from Mars takes just over nine minutes to be relayed to Earth, meaning the team had to wait to find out if the spacecraft survived. But as of yet, no signal has arrived. Instead, the team will have to wait for another telescope to pick up its signal – Schiaparelli was not designed to transmit directly to Earth.
Scientists at the ESA say it could be several hours before they can confirm success or failure. A press conference providing a mission status update will be held at 9am BST 20 October. At this time the team hopes to release the first images from the descent.
A statement from the ESA said: "End of planned Schiaparelli transmission. Initial signals were received via the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) as Schiaparelli descended to the surface of Mars, but no signal of touchdown yet.
"This is not unexpected due to the very faint nature of the signal received at GMRT. A clearer assessment of the situation will come when ESA's Mars Express will have relayed the recording of Schiaparelli's entry, descent and landing."
The Schiaparelli spacecraft was deployed to Mars in order to test the landing technology. This is ahead of the ExoMars 2020 mission, where the ESA will land a rover on the surface of the Red Planet in order to search for signs of life – either past or present.