Signals from ExoMars — a spacecraft sent to Mars in the first phase of a joint mission by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia’s Roscosmos — received just hours after liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan confirmed that the launch was successful and the spacecraft is in good health.

“Acquisition of signal confirmed. We have a mission to Mars!” the ESA said in a brief statement issued at 5:29 p.m. EDT Monday.

The first phase of the ExoMars mission consists of two separate modules — the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli landing module. The orbiter and the lander will reach Mars in October after completing a journey of over 300 million miles. Three days before reaching the atmosphere of Mars, Schiaparelli will be ejected from the orbiter.

ExoMars_2016_Schiaparelli_descent_sequence Overview of Schiaparelli’s entry, descent and landing sequence on Mars, with approximate time, altitude and speed of key events indicated. Photo: ESA/ATG medialab

Once it has dropped off Schiaparelli on the red planet, the TGO will spend the better part of a year maneuvering itself into orbit, nearly 250 miles above the surface. ESA aims to use the orbiter as a data relay point for the second ExoMars mission, planned for launch in 2018. It will also provide data relay for NASA rovers.

“It’s been a long journey getting the first ExoMars mission to the launch pad, but thanks to the hard work and dedication of our international teams, a new era of Mars exploration is now within our reach,” ESA’s Director General Johann-Dietrich Woerner said in a statement Monday.

The main objective of the ExoMars mission is to search for evidence of methane — a gas emitted by living microbes on Earth, and traces of which have been observed by previous Mars missions — and other trace atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes. Since a simple organic molecule like methane should be easily destroyed in the harsh, radiation-rich Martian environment, its existence indicates a replenishing source, one that may be either biological or geological.

“We’re not only looking forward to the world-class science data that this mission will return, but it is also significant in paving the way for the second ExoMars mission, which will move our expertise from in-orbit observations to surface and subsurface exploration of Mars,” Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s director of science, said in the statement.