Anxious time for Airbus staff as they watch every move of Mars mission which will pave the way for the launch of their Stevnage built rover

The Mars Rover built at Airbus in Stevenage

The Mars Rover built at Airbus in Stevenage - Credit: Archant

Staff at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage were keeping close watch as a rocket blasted off into the ether from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday on a mission to Mars.

They were still waiting and watching as the giant rocket left earth’s orbit on Monday night to begin its flight to the Red Planet and will be keeping a close eye on the mission in the coming months.

Much hangs on the success of the ExoMars 2016 mission for the team at the Gunnels Wood Road aerospace firm.

Crucially the mission backed by the European and Russian space agencies will launch satellite into orbit around the Red Planet which - as well as looking for signs of gas being emitted from possible life forms on the planet, will be used to control a Mars Rover being built and tested by the Stevenage, team and due for launch on a second ExoMars mission in 2018

When it lands on Mars in late spring 2019, the state of the art rover will be the first of its kind ever built in Europe and will help scientists gain a greater understanding of the make-up of the mysterious Red Planet.

Airbus spokesman Jeremy Close said: “We’re very excited to learn the first part of the mission is safely on its way to Mars, and when it gets there we want to make sure it’s operating properly so when the rover lands it will have its communication life line back to earth.”

The rover needs to be controlled by satellite because Mars is so far away there would otherwise be a 20 minute delay before signals from earth could reach it.

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The firm will be building one rover for the mission but is currently working on three prototypes.

The current mission is also crucial because it will test the technology that will actually land the rover on the rocky surface of the red planet.

The current mission will launch a Schiaparelli capsule through the martian atmosphere in October and it will be a crucial test-run for the kind of capsule that will land the rover onto the surface of Mars.

Other Airbus Defence and Space plants across Europe have designed and built the two heat shields which will enable the Schiaparelli capsule to withstand its descent through the planet’s atmosphere.

For more information on the mission visit...