European Space Agency's Mars probe not emitting signal

The ExoMars mission is looking for signs of life on the Red Planet

European Space Agency's Mars probe not emitting signal

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and its entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, Schiaparelli, approaching Mars | Image: ESA/ATG medialab

Updated: 09:30am

The European Space Agency has confirmed this morning that the space probe descending on Mars has been lost.

A European space probe touched down late on Mars last night but was emitting no signal, ground controllers have announced. 

It is not known whether the craft was intact.

"The lander touched down, that is certain," Thierry Blancquaert, manager of the European Space Agency's Schiaparelli lander told AFP.

"Whether it landed intact, whether it hit a rock or a crater or whether it simply cannot communicate, that I don't know."

The ExoMars Schiaparelli space probe had earlier lost contact with mission control during its descent to the surface of Mars.

The mission's main objective was to look for signs of life on the Red Planet.

For the European Space Agency (ESA) the landing was a "technology demonstrator" - a test of the descent system it hopes to use in 2020 to put a robotic rover on the surface.

Schiaparelli's batteries will last just a couple of days and it has only a handful of instruments to monitor the weather.

It crossed 500 million km on its seven-month journey from Earth.

"The outlook is not good," Open University space scientist Dr Manish Patel, who designed one of the instruments on the ExoMars orbiter, told The Telegraph.

Meanwhile, the mothership that carried Schiaparelli half a billion kilometres from Earth will begin a series of engine burns to slow it enough to begin orbiting Mars.

Over the next year it will decrease the size of its orbit to just 400km above the surface.

The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), as it is properly known, will then begin analysing the make-up of the atmosphere.

Scientists know there are pockets of methane, a gas that should be broken down in less than 400 years in the harsh sunlight of Mars. That suggests it is constantly being replenished from an unknown source.

It may have a geological origin - water mixing with certain rocks or the gas may have a biological source - microbes.

It is unlikely they are alive today because of the high ultra-violet radiation on the surface. More likely the gas was produced by microbes billions of years ago and then trapped by ice and released as it melted.