Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s number two in space technology, has designed and built two heat shields which will enable the Schiaparelli capsule of the ExoMars 2016 mission to withstand its descent through the Martian atmosphere and land on the Red Planet later this year.

The lander module was launched on 14 March from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan along with a Trace Gas Orbiter that will look for trace gases while in orbit around Mars.

The Schiaparelli front heat shield consists of a carbon sandwich structure built by Airbus Defence and Space’s Spanish teams that is then covered with 90 tiles of an insulating material called Norcoat Liège, at the company’s Bordeaux (France) site.

The ExoMars programme is a joint initiative by ESA and the Russian space agency. The 2016 mission includes the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli demonstrator, or EDM (Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module), which will land on the Red Planet to test the entry, descent and landing technologies that will be used in future Mars missions.