A European space probe will today attempt to land on Mars using a heatshield, parachute and rocket boosters to slow it from 13,000mph, before finally belly-flopping onto the surface.

If Schiaparelli confirms it has survived the six-minute descent it will be the first time a European spacecraft has successfully made it to the red planet.

It has crossed a distance of 500 million km (310 million miles) on its seven-month journey from Earth.

The ExoMars mission’s main objective is to look for signs of life.
But overcoming the notoriously tricky Martian atmosphere – too thin to rely on a parachute alone; too thick to reliably use thrusters – will also be a major achievement.
And dust storms and other environmental factors can change the characteristics of the atmosphere on a daily basis.
For the European Space Agency the landing is 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. 
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, more intriguingly, 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.
The TGO should resolve the controversy by analysing the chemical signature of the methane. There are slight differences in the gas depending on its origins.
The European Space Agency is on a roll. Last month it brought to an end the hugely successful Rosetta mission by bringing the spacecraft to rest on the surface of the comet it had been shadowing.
But ExoMars is another big test.
British-built Beagle 2 failed to call home in 2003 despite making it to the surface of the planet.
Europe will be hoping for better luck this time round.

(c) Sky News 2016: Mars mission set to make history by landing probe on red planet