ExoMars successfully launches - March 14, 2016.
Beginning a seven-month voyage to the Red Planet, the joint European/Russian ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli lander lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 5:31am EDT today.
A Proton-M rocket lofted the spacecraft to an initial parking orbit above Earth, where the Briz-M upper stage will perform four burns to send the spacecraft on a trans-Mars trajectory. That final burn is expected to end around 4:10pm EDT, marking the conclusion of the launch.
This is the first interplanetary mission for Proton in nearly two decades since the failed Mars96 mission in 1996. Weighing in at 9,500 pounds, ExoMars is also the heaviest spacecraft ever sent to Mars. Although Mars96 and the 2011 Photos-Grunt missions were heavier, both spacecraft failed to leave Earth orbit.
ExoMars is a joint mission between the European Space Agency and Roscosmos, and is a two-part program. Phase 1 consists of the TGO/Schiaparelli, while phase 2 contains a surface rover launching in 2018.
The Trace Gas Orbiter will map sources of methane on the Martian surface that the 2018 lander will explore. America is the only country so far to successfully land on the Martian surface, and Schiaparelli will test European methods for entry and landing.
Both spacecraft will arrive in mid-October of 2016, with the orbiter expected to perform a five-year science mission ending in 2021.