ExoMars (Exobiology on Mars)
Background: Establishing whether life ever existed, or is still active on Mars today, is one of the outstanding scientific questions of our time. The ExoMars Program seeks to timely address this and other important scientific goals, and to demonstrate key flight and in situ enabling technologies underpinning European and Russian ambitions for future exploration missions. The ExoMars Program is a cooperative undertaking between ESA (European Space Agency) and the Russian federal space agency, Roscosmos. 1)
Within ESA, ExoMars is an element of the Aurora Exploration Program, an optional program executed under the supervision of the Program Board for Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration (PBHME). However, the ESA Science Program also participates to ExoMars. The objective of the Aurora Program is to explore Solar System objects having a high potential for the emergence of life. Aurora aims to develop technologies and address scientific questions in a step-wise fashion, seeking to advance the level of technical and scientific readiness with each successive mission.
Within Roscosmos, ExoMars is part of the Russian federal space program and is supported by RAS (Russian Academy of Sciences).
To prepare for future exploration missions and to support the Program's scientific objectives, ExoMars will achieve the following technology objectives:
• EDL (Entry, Descent, and Landing) of a payload on the surface of Mars
• Surface mobility with a Rover
• Access to the subsurface to acquire samples
• Sample acquisition, preparation, distribution, and analysis.
In addition to these technology objectives already agreed in the Aurora Declaration, the following new technology objectives result from the cooperation with Roscosmos:
• Qualification of Russian ground-based means for deep-space communications in cooperation with ESA's ESTRACK
• Adaptation of Russian on-board computer for deep space missions and ExoMars landed operations
• Development and qualification of throttleable braking engines for prospective planetary landing missions.
The scientific objectives of ExoMars are:
• To search for signs of past and present life on Mars
• To investigate the water/geochemical environment as a function of depth in the shallow subsurface
• To study martian atmospheric trace gases and their sources.
In addition to these science objectives already agreed in the Aurora Declaration, the following new scientific objective results from the cooperation with Roscosmos:
• To characterise the surface environment.
The ExoMars Program consists of two missions, in 2016 and 2018. ESA and Roscosmos have agreed a well-balanced sharing of responsibilities for the various mission elements. 2)
Table 1: Second ExoMars mission moves to next launch opportunity in 2020 3)
The ExoMars 2016 mission will be launched on a Roscosmos-provided Proton rocket. It includes the TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) and the EDM (Entry, descent and landing Demonstrator Module), both contributed by ESA. The TGO will carry European and Russian scientific instruments for remote observations, while the EDM will have a European payload for in situ measurements during descent and on the martian surface.
In November 2013, ESA named the EDM Schiaparelli in honor the 19th century Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910). He observed bright and dark straight-line surface features on Mars which he called ‘canali'. This term was mistakenly translated into English as ‘canal' instead of ‘channel', conjuring up images of vast irrigation networks constructed by intelligent beings living on Mars. The controversy ended in the early 20th century, thanks to better telescopes offering a clearer view of the planet. — The name was suggested by a group of Italian scientists to the president of the Italian space agency, ASI, who then proposed it to ESA. Italy is the largest European contributor to the ExoMars program. 4)
The ExoMars 2018 mission will land a Rover, provided by ESA, making use of a DM (Descent Module) contributed by Roscosmos. The DM will travel to Mars on an ESA-provided CM (Carrier Module). Roscosmos will launch the spacecraft composite on a Proton rocket. The Rover will be equipped with a European and Russian suite of instruments, and with Russian RHUs (Radioisotope Heating Units). The Rover will also include a 2 m drill for subsurface sampling and a SPDS (Sample Preparation and Distribution System), supporting the suite of geology and life seeking experiments in the Rover's ALD (Analytical Laboratory Drawer). The Russian SP (Surface Platform) will contain a further suite of instruments, mainly concentrating on environmental and geophysical investigations. 5)
NASA will also deliver important elements to ExoMars: The Electra UHF (Ultra-High Frequency) radio package on TGO for Mars surface proximity link communications with landed assets (such as the Rover and Surface Platform); engineering support to EDM; and a major part of MOMA (Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer), the organic molecule characterization instrument on the Rover.
Table 2: An overview of some Mars parameters 6)
Spacecraft of ExoMars 2016 mission:
The ExoMars mission is the first ESA-led robotic mission of the Aurora Program and combines technology development with investigations of major scientific interest. The main objectives of this mission are to search for evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes and to test key technologies in preparation for ESA's contribution to subsequent missions to Mars. 7)
The ExoMars 2016 mission spacecraft includes the following elements, all developed under the leadership of the prime contractor TAS-I (Thales Alenia Space-Italia). 8)
• TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter), developed by Thales Alenia Space, France
• EDM, developed directly by TAS-I
• MSA (Main Separation Assembly), developed by RUAG.
The TGO accommodates scientific instrumentation for the detection of atmospheric trace gases and the study of their temporal and spatial evolution. In addition, it will provide telecommunications support for the 2016 mission, for the 2018 mission and possible other assets until 2022.
The objectives of the ExoMars 2016 mission are to:
1) Validate landing on the planet Mars with a demonstration capsule weighing about 600 kg, using a control system based on a radar altimeter, and with a carbon fiber shock absorber to attenuate the hard contact with the surface.
2) Gather as much information as possible during entry into the Martian atmosphere.
3) Carry out scientific sampling on the surface for a short period.
4) Observe the Martian atmosphere and surface for two years from the orbiter at an altitude of 400 km.
5) Provide the telecommunication support needed by the rover for the 2018 mission.
The EDM is mainly conceived to demonstrate EDL (Entry Descent and Landing) technologies for future planetary exploration missions. The following technologies are foreseen to be demonstrated:
• TPS (Thermal Protection System)
• PAS (Supersonic Parachute System)
• Radar technologies for ground relative altitude and velocity measurements
• Propulsion technologies for attitude control and braked landing
• Crushable material for impact load attenuation.
Figure 1: Artist's rendition of the deployed ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli – the entry, descent and landing demonstrator module (image credit: ESA, ATG medialag)
TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter)
The technical team behind the ExoMars spacecraft involves companies across more than 20 countries. The prime contractor, Thales Alenia Space Italia, is leading the industrial team building the spacecraft (Ref. 6). As a part of the European industrial team, OHB System AG was responsible for developing the core module of the TGO, which comprises the structure as well as the thermal and propulsion system for the 2016 mission. OHB as member of the core industrial team, is responsible for the major German contribution to ExoMars.
Table 3: Main technical characteristics of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter
NASA's participation in the 2016 ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter includes two "Electra" telecommunication radios. Used successfully on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Electra acts as a communications relay and navigation aid for Mars spacecraft. Electra's UHF radios support navigation, command, and data-return needs. 9)
TGO's Electra radios use a design from NASA/JPL with special features for relaying data from a rover or stationary lander to an orbiter passing overhead. Relay of information from Mars-surface craft to Mars orbiters, then from Mars orbit to Earth, enables receiving much more data from the surface missions than would otherwise be possible.
As an example of Electra capabilities, during a relay session between an Electra on the surface and one on an orbiter, the radios can maximize data volume by actively adjusting the data rate to be slower when the orbiter is near the horizon from the surface robot's perspective, faster when it is overhead.
Figure 2: This image shows a step in installation and testing of the first of the orbiter's Electra radios, inside a clean room at Thales Alenia Space, in Cannes, France, in June 2014 (image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/TAS) 10)
RCS (Reaction Control System): TGO requires a challenging propulsion subsystem. The TGO RCS will provide the thrust to the spacecraft for all initial trajectory corrections, DSMs (Deep Space Maneuvers) during the cruise phase to Mars and also the high thrust necessary for the final MOI (Mars Orbit Insertion) maneuver. Subsequently, it shall perform 3-axis attitude control of the TGO once in orbit around Mars for the remainder of its seven year lifetime. 11)
The selected RCS is a helium-pressurized bi-propellant propulsion system utilizing MMH (Monomethylhydrazine) as the fuel and mixed oxides of nitrogen (MON-1) as the oxidizer. The architecture is derived from previous flight proven European applications, however the detailed layout is unique and driven by the specific configuration of the TGO spacecraft and the redundancy needs of the ExoMars 2016 mission.
All RCS architecture and engineering activities have been performed by OHB-System (including all subsystem analyses), while Airbus Defence and Space has responsibility for the mechanical configuration, procurement and manufacturing of equipment, integration and acceptance test to ensure that the system requirements defined by TAS-F are satisfied. The subsystem test program has been defined by OHB-System and performed by Airbus DS at the Airbus DS, OHB-System and TAS facilities. Out of the 92 components comprising the flight RCS, 67 are manufactured by Airbus DS including all tanks and thrusters.
Figure 3: The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli (top) during vibration testing in 2015, the high-gain antenna is on the right (image credit: ESA, S. Corvaja)
Schiaparelli / EDM (Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module)
Landing on Mars: Despite a number of prominent US successes since the 1970s, landing on Mars remains a significant challenge. As part of the ExoMars program, a range of technologies has been developed to enable a controlled landing. These include a special material for thermal protection, a parachute system, a radar altimeter system, and a final braking system controlled by liquid-propellant retrorockets. Schiaparelli is designed to test and demonstrate these technologies, in preparation for future missions (Ref. 6).
Three days before reaching Mars, Schiaparelli will separate from TGO and coast towards the planet in hibernation mode, to reduce its power consumption. It will be activated a few hours before entering the atmosphere at an altitude of 122.5 km and at a speed of 21 000 km/h. An aerodynamic heatshield will slow the lander down such that at an altitude of about 11 km, when the parachute is deployed, it will be travelling at around 1650 km/h.
Schiaparelli will release its front heat shield at an altitude of about 7 km and turn on its radar altimeter, which can measure the distance to the ground and its velocity across the surface. This information is used to activate and command the liquid propulsion system once the rear heatshield and parachute has been jettisoned 1.3 km above the surface. At this point, Schiaparelli will still be travelling at nearly 270 km/h, but the engines will slow it to less than 2 km/h by the time it is 2 m above the surface. At that moment, the engines will be switched off and Schiaparelli will freefall to the ground, where the final impact, at just under 11 km/h, will be cushioned by a crushable structure on the base of the lander.
Although Schiaparelli will target the plain known as Meridiani Planum in a controlled landing, it is not guided, and the module has no obstacle-avoidance capability. It has, however, been designed to cope with landing on a terrain with rocks as tall as 40 cm and slopes as steep as 12.5º.
Because Schiaparelli is primarily demonstrating technologies needed for landing, it does not have a long scientific mission lifetime: it is intended to survive on the surface for just a few days by using the excess energy capacity of its batteries. However, a set of scientific sensors will analyse the local environment during descent and after landing, including performing the first measurements of atmospheric particle charging effects, to help understand how global dust storms get started on Mars. A communication link with TGO will provide realtime transmission of the most important operational data measured by Schiaparelli during its descent. Shortly after Schiaparelli lands, TGO will start a main engine burn and will return over the landing site only four sols later. In the meantime, the remainder of the entry, descent and landing data, along with some of the science instrument data, will be sent to Earth via ESA's Mars Express and NASA satellites already at Mars.
Schiaparelli builds on a heritage of designs that have been evaluated and tested by ESA during earlier ExoMars studies. The module accommodates a series of sensors that will monitor the behaviour of all key technologies during the mission. These technologies include a special material for thermal protection, a parachute system, a radar Doppler altimeter system, and a braking system controlled by liquid propulsion. The data will be sent back to Earth for post-flight reconstruction in support of future European missions to Mars.
Table 4: Main technical characteristics of Schiaparelli – the ExoMars EDM (Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module)
Figure 4: Photo of the Schiaparelli/EDM structural model which is being lowered onto the Multishaker at ESA/ESTEC (image credit: ESA, A. Le Floc'h, Ref. 4)
Launch preparations: In late December 2015, the ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli (the entry, descent and landing demonstrator module) travelled aboard two Antonov 124 cargo jets from Turin, Italy, to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to be readied for launch in March. 12)
Since then, engineering teams, totaling about 65 people, from Thales Alenia Space (Italy and France), the ExoMars project team, instrument teams, and specialists from the Baikonur Cosmodrome have been steadily working through an intensive and painstaking program of final testing and preparation of the two spacecraft, which at 4.300 kg will be the heaviest spacecraft composite ever to be sent to Mars.
All this has to be completed in time for a launch scheduled for 14 March at the beginning of the 12-day launch window for this mission.
Central to the launch campaign activities is the cleanroom. Almost everything in the cleanroom has been transported from Europe for this launch campaign – hence the need for a third Antonov flight. In addition to the specialist lifting equipment and the ground support trolleys needed to move the two spacecraft, the teams have also had to prepare a dedicated ISO 7 environment cleanroom tent, within the "normal" ISO 8 cleanroom environment, for handling Schiaparelli which, being a Mars lander, must be regularly sampled to check that it satisfies the planetary protection regulations. For analysis of these samples a dedicated microbiological laboratory was brought from Turin and installed close to the cleanroom area.
The readying of the TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) has included a series of system health checks, such as checking that signals could be sent to all spacecraft units and that they responded. The health of the payload – the four science instruments, ACS, CaSSIS, FREND and NOMAD – was checked in a similar manner by verifying that commands could be sent to them and that these commands were carried out. The flight model of FREND was swapped for the flight spare model.
Another important test that has been completed was with the Trace Gas Orbiter and the launch vehicle adapter. Mechanical fit checks and separation tests had already been done in Cannes last year. Here in Baikonur, the team checked the mechanical connections, and also verified that all electrical circuits were completed.
In parallel, Schiaparelli is also being prepared for launch and is subject to tests similar to those performed on the orbiter. The instruments, sensors (DREAMS and COMARS+) and systems have all been thoroughly checked. A leak test has been carried out. Engineers have uploaded the final software and charged the batteries - since Schiaparelli has no solar panels the fully charged batteries are essential for the surface operations. 13)
The mating of the TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) and Schiaparelli began on 12 February, 2016 with the two spacecraft having been transferred into the fuelling area, where a mounting platform surrounding the orbiter facilitates the activities that need to be done about 4 m off the ground.
TGO and Schiaparelli are mechanically linked with the MSA (Main Separation Assembly), which attaches to TGO with 27 screws. The MSA holds onto Schiaparelli with three separation mechanisms comprising compressed and angled springs that are held by NEAs (Non-Explosive Actuators). When the NEAs are released on 16 October, as the spacecraft approaches Mars, Schiaparelli will be gently pushed away from TGO, at the same time being imparted with a rotation that will serve to stabilize its atmospheric entry.
Legend to Figure 5: This spacecraft has one fuel tank and one oxidizer tank, each with a capacity of 1207 liter. When fuelling is complete, the tanks will contain about 1.5 ton of MON (mixed oxides of nitrogen) and 1 ton of MMH (monomethylhydrazine). The propellant is needed for the main engine and the 10 thrusters (plus 10 backup thrusters) that are used for fine targeting and critical maneuvers.
Legend to Figure 6: On March 2, 2016, the Breeze upper stage and spacecraft were encapsulated together within the two fairing halves. Prior to the encapsulation, they were tilted horizontally and the first fairing half was rolled underneath the spacecraft and Breeze, on a track inside the cleanroom. The second fairing half was then lowered into place by means of an overhead crane, encapsulating the payload.
Figure 7: Proton-M rocket with ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli module at the launch pad in Baikonur, Kazakhstan (image credit: ESA, B. Bethge) 17)
Launch: The European-Russian ExoMars (TGO and the EDM Schiaparelli lander) satellite was launched on March 14, 2016 (09:31 GMT) on a Proton-M/Briz vehicle from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. The launch provider was ILS (International Launch Services) KhSC (Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center). 18) 19) 20)
Orbit: The SCC (ExoMars Spacecraft Composite) will be inserted into a T-2 transfer trajectory to Mars. The arrival on Mars is planned on Oct. 19, 2016 after a 9-month cruise phase.
During the cruise phase, the TGO will support all necessary operations and communications with Earth, and will provide the EDM (Schiaparelli) with the required power/energy. During this period, the EDM will be mostly in hibernation mode to minimize the TGO energy consumption, and nominally will be switched on only for three checkouts: the EDM commissioning checkout few days after the launch, the mid-cruise checkout to verify the EDM health status after the DSM (Deep Space Maneuver), and the preseparation checkout few hours before the separation from the TGO.
The EDM will be released by the TGO three days before the arrival at Mars (i.e. on Oct. 16th, 2016) by means of a 3-points spin-up separation mechanism (MSA). The separation provides a relative velocity higher than 0.3 m/s and a spin rate of 2.5 rpm. The spin rate will allow the EDM for maintaining the attitude needed to reach the Mars atmosphere EIP (Entry Interface Point) with a null angle of attack. The duration of the EDM coast phase (3 days), driven by the TGO need to have enough time to correct its orbit after the EDM separation and prepare the critical MOI ()Mars Orbit Injection) maneuver, is challenging for the EDM as the dispersions, coming from the navigation and from the separation mechanism, will propagate for quite a long time, by increasing the trajectory dispersions at Mars EIP.
During the coast phase, the EDM will be mainly in hibernation mode, to minimize the energy consumption from its batteries. Shortly before the arrival at the Mars EIP, the EDM will wake up from the hibernation to prepare the EDL phase.
The ExoMars Orbiter, TGO, will be inserted into an elliptical orbit around Mars and then sweep through the atmosphere to finally settle into a circular, approximately 400 km altitude orbit ready to conduct its scientific mission; inclination = 74º, period of ~2 hours.
TGO will also serve as a data relay for the second ExoMars mission, comprising a rover and a surface science platform, planned for launch in 2018. It will also provide data relay for NASA rovers.
• October 25, 2018: This striking view of layered sediments on Mars was captured by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter's CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) on 2 October 2018. The image, which covers an area 25 x 7 km wide, focuses on a layered mound in Juventae Chasma, just north of the iconic Valles Marineris. 21)
- The features in the chasmata around Valles Marineris have been well studied by Mars orbiters, including ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The CRISM instrument on MRO detected a significant amount of sulphates at the base of the mound shown in this image – a composition that points to the presence of water in the distant past.
- The new image from CaSSIS reveals the beautiful sedimentary layers in high resolution, allowing scientists to explore the correlation between color as seen by the camera, and composition as determined by previous measurements to better understand how these minerals were deposited in the area. Patterns in the layering can also serve as a record of climate, further constraining the type of environment in which this feature formed, and shedding light on the history of this stunning landscape.
- The ExoMars program is a joint endeavor between ESA and Roscosmos.
Figure 8: Layered mound in Juventae Chasma on Mars captured by CaSSIS on 2 October 2018 (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• September 19, 2018: Astronauts on a mission to Mars would be exposed to at least 60% of the total radiation dose limit recommended for their career during the journey itself to and from the Red Planet, according to data from the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) being presented at the EPSC (European Planetary Science Congress) in Berlin, Germany, this week. 22)
- The orbiter's camera team are also presenting new images of Mars during the meeting. They will also highlight the challenges faced from the recent dust storm that engulfed the entire planet, preventing high-quality imaging of the surface.
- Radiation monitoring: The TGO began its science mission at Mars in April, and while its primary goals are to provide the most detailed inventory of martian atmospheric gases to date – including those that might be related to active geological or biological processes – its radiation monitor has been collecting data since launch in 2016.
- The Liulin-MO dosimeter of the Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector (FREND) provided data on the radiation doses recorded during the orbiter's six-month interplanetary cruise to Mars, and since the spacecraft reached orbit around the planet.
- On Earth, a strong magnetic field and thick atmosphere protects us from the unceasing bombardment of galactic cosmic rays, fragments of atoms from outside our Solar System that travel at close to the speed of light and are highly penetrating for biological material.
- In space this has the potential to cause serious damage to humans, including radiation sickness, an increased lifetime risk for cancer, central nervous system effects, and degenerative diseases, which is why ESA is researching ways to best protect astronauts on long spaceflight missions.
Figure 9: The CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) onboard the joint ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars TGO imaged the Ariadne Colles region at 34ºS on 2 September 2018 (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Legend to Figure 9: The image shows an unusual terrain type – sometimes referred to as chaotic blocks – but what is particularly striking are the large number of dark streaks. One possible interpretation is that these features were produced during the recent dust storm: they could have resulted from dust devils stirring up the surface dust.
- The ExoMars measurements cover a period of declining solar activity, corresponding to a high radiation dose. Increased activity of the Sun can deflect the galactic cosmic rays, although very large solar flares and eruptions can themselves be dangerous to astronauts.
- "One of the basic factors in planning and designing a long-duration crewed mission to Mars is consideration of the radiation risk," says Jordanka Semkova of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and lead scientist of the Liulin-MO instrument.
- "Radiation doses accumulated by astronauts in interplanetary space would be several hundred times larger than the doses accumulated by humans over the same time period on Earth, and several times larger than the doses of astronauts and cosmonauts working on the International Space Station. Our results show that the journey itself would provide very significant exposure for the astronauts to radiation."
- The results imply that on a six-month journey to the Red Planet, and assuming six-months back again, an astronaut could be exposed to at least 60% of the total radiation dose limit recommended for their entire career.
- The ExoMars data, which is in good agreement with data from Mars Science Laboratory's cruise to Mars in 2011–2012 and with other particle detectors currently in space – taking into account the different solar conditions – will be used to verify radiation environment models and assessments of the radiation risk to the crewmembers of future exploration missions.
- A similar sensor is under preparation for the ExoMars 2020 mission to monitor the radiation environment from the surface of Mars. Arriving in 2021, the next mission will comprise a rover and a stationary surface science platform. The Trace Gas Orbiter will act as a data relay for the surface assets.
- Global dust storm subsides: Radiation is not the only hazard facing Mars missions. A global dust storm that engulfed the planet earlier this year resulted in severely reduced light levels at the surface, sending NASA's Opportunity rover into hibernation. The solar-powered rover has been silent for more than three months.
- Orbiting 400 km above the surface, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter's CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) has also suffered. Because the surface of the planet was almost totally obscured by dust, the camera was switched off for much of the storm period.
- "Normally we don't like to release images like this, but it does show how the dust storm prevents useful imaging of the surface," says the camera's Principal Investigator, Nicolas Thomas from the University of Bern. "We had images that were worse than this when we took an occasional look at the conditions, and it didn't make too much sense to try to look through ‘soup'."
- But the camera team discovered that even a dust cloud has a silver lining. "The dust-obscured observations are actually quite good for calibration," says Nicolas. "The camera has a small amount of straylight and we have been using the dust storm images to find the source of the straylight and begin to derive algorithms to remove it."
- Since 20 August, CaSSIS has started round-the-clock imaging again. "We still have some images affected by the dust storm but it is quickly getting back to normal and we have already had a lot of good quality images coming down since the beginning of September," adds Nicolas.
- One image acquired on 2 September (Figure 9), although not completely free from artefacts, shows striking dark streaks that might be linked to the storm itself. A possible interpretation is that these features were produced by ‘dust devils' – whirlwinds – stirring up loose surface material. The region, Ariadne Colles in the southern hemisphere of Mars, was imaged by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter camera in March, before the storm, and there seemed to be little evidence of these streaks.
• September 17, 2018: The image of Figure 10 shows the south-facing rim of a pit crater at 68°S in the Sisyphi Planum region of Mars. It is a color composite made from images acquired on 2 September 2018 by the CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) onboard the joint ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) mission, when the southern hemisphere of Mars was in late spring. 23)
- Most striking are the bright residual carbon dioxide ice deposits on south-facing slopes of the crater. In colder months carbon dioxide and some water vapor freezes on the surface. Then, as the Sun gets higher in the sky again, the ice sublimates away, revealing the underlying surface.
- This particular crater is known to have active gullies – small, incised networks of narrow channels at the rim of the crater that are associated with debris flows. Ice-rich landslide-like flows of material down-slope can be seen in this image – perhaps related to the ‘defrosting' of the ice as the seasons change.
- Seasonal changes of ice and frost on Mars is one aspect of the ExoMars orbiter's mission being discussed this week at the European Planetary Science Congress, a major European annual meeting on planetary science, this year hosted by the Technische Universität Berlin, Germany.
Figure 10: The image measures 20 x 8 km with a resolution of 4.5 m/pixel. North is 45º on the upper left. The image was taken at 07:22 AM local solar time on 2 September 2018 and assembled from the RED, PAN and BLU filters (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• August 24, 2018: This beautiful dune field lies inside a crater near the south polar region of Mars. The image was taken by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter's CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) on 18 May 2018, at the beginning of martian southern spring, when a thin layer of seasonal carbon dioxide ice was still covering the surface. Over the winter, the ice grains in this thin layer appear to grow enough that the ice becomes almost transparent, letting light through and heating up the surface from the bottom of the ice. As the ice begins to sublimate from the bottom up, pressure builds up, and it is released through instabilities and cracks in the ice layer, in what scientists think are geyser-like processes of carbon dioxide gas that push out martian sand. The black streaks seen all across this image are examples of the darker sand being propelled out through the ice cracks and down the slip face of the dunes. 24)
Figure 11: This CaSSIS image was acquired on 18 May 2018, showing a dune field inside a crater near the south polar region of Mars (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• July 16, 2018: The Rt Hon Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK, examines the ESA ExoMars rover in the Space Zone at the Farnborough International Airshow, accompanied by ESA Director General Jan Wörner, ESA astronaut Tim Peake and Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency Dr Graham Turnock, 16 July 2018. 25)
Figure 12: UK PM Theresa May with ESA Exomars Rover at Farnborough Airshow 2018 (image credit: ESA)
• June 27, 2018: The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter showing the region where the ancient Uzboi Vallis enters the Holden crater in the southern hemisphere of Mars. The valley begins on the northern rim of the Argyre basin and was formed by running water. The fluvial deposits are clearly visible in the impact cratered terrain. 26)
Figure 13: The image was taken by the orbiter's CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) on 31 May 2018 and captures an approximately 22.7 x 6.6 km segment centered at 26.8ºS/34.8ºW. North is to the bottom left in this orientation (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS , CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• June 4, 2018: The poles of Mars have huge ice caps that are similar to Earth's polar caps in Greenland and Antarctica. These caps are composed primarily of water ice and were deposited in layers that contain varying amounts of dust. They are referred to as the martian Polar Layered Deposits (PLD). 27)
- Thanks to massive canyons that dissect the layered deposits, orbiting spacecraft can view the layered internal structure. The ExoMars orbiter's CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) viewed this 7 x 38 km segment of icy layered deposits near the margin of the South PLD, which extend as far north as 73ºS.
- Here, CaSSIS has imaged remnant deposits within a crater at this margin. The beautiful variations in color and brightness of the layers are visible through the camera's color filters. It highlights the bright ice and the redder sandy deposits toward the top of the image.
- The ExoMars program is a joint endeavor between ESA and Roscosmos.
Figure 14: The ExoMars TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) captured this view of part of the south polar ice cap on Mars on 13 May 2018 (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS , CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• April 26, 2018: The ExoMars TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) has returned the first images of the Red Planet from its new orbit. The spacecraft arrived in a near-circular 400 km altitude orbit a few weeks ago ahead of its primary goal to seek out gases that may be linked to active geological or biological activity on Mars. 28)
- The orbiter's CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) took this stunning image, which features part of an impact crater, during the instrument's test period. The camera was activated on 20 March and was tested for the start of its main mission on 28 April.
- "We transmitted new software to the instrument at the start of the test phase and after a couple of minor issues, the instrument is in good health and ready to work," says the camera's principal investigator, Nicolas Thomas from the University of Bern in Switzerland.
- The image captures a 40 km-long segment of Korolev Crater located high in the northern hemisphere. The bright material on the rim of the crater is ice.
- "We were really pleased to see how good this picture was given the lighting conditions," says Antoine Pommerol, a member of the CaSSIS science team working on the calibration of the data. "It shows that CaSSIS can make a major contribution to studies of the carbon dioxide and water cycles on Mars."
- "We aim to fully automate the image production process," says Nick. "Once we achieve this, we can distribute the data quickly to the science community for analysis." - The team also plans to make regular public releases.
Figure 15: The ExoMars CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) captured this view of the rim of Korolev crater (73.3ºN/165.9ºE) on 15 April 2018. The image is a composite of three images in different colors that were taken almost simultaneously. They were then assembled to produce this color view. The original image has a nominal scale of 5.08 m/pixel and was re-projected at a resolution of 4.6 m/pixel to create the final version. The dimensions are therefore about 10 x 40 km. The image was taken with a ground-track velocity of 2.90 km/s. The solar incidence angle was 76.6º at a local solar time of 07:14:11 (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS). In this orientation, north is off-center to the upper left.
- The orbiter's camera is one of four instruments on the Trace Gas Orbiter, or TGO, which also hosts two spectrometer suites and a neutron detector.
- The spectrometers began their science mission on 21 April with the spacecraft taking its first ‘sniff' of the atmosphere. In reality, the sniffing is the spectrometers looking at how molecules in the atmosphere absorb sunlight: each has a unique fingerprint that reveals its chemical composition.
- A long period of data collection will be needed to bring out the details, especially for particularly rare – or not even yet discovered – ingredients in the atmosphere. Trace gases, as hinted at from their name, are only present in very small amounts: that is, less than one percent of the volume of the planet's atmosphere. In particular, the orbiter will seek evidence of methane and other gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological activity.
- The camera will eventually help characterize features on the surface that may be related to trace gas sources. "We are excited to finally be starting collecting data at Mars with this phenomenal spacecraft," says Håkan Svedhem, ESA's TGO project scientist. "The test images we have seen so far certainly set the bar high."
• April 9, 2018: The ExoMars orbiter will soon begin its search for gases that may be linked to active geological or biological activity on the Red Planet. The TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) has reached its final orbit after a year of ‘aerobraking' that ended in February. This exciting operation saw the craft skimming through the very top of the upper atmosphere, using drag on its solar wings to transform its initial highly elliptical four-day orbit of about 200 x 98,000 km into the final, much lower and near-circular path at about 400 km. 29)
- It is now circling Mars every two hours and, after calibration and installation of new software, it will begin routine scientific observations. "This is a major milestone for our ExoMars program, and a fantastic achievement for Europe," says Pia Mitschdoerfer, Trace Gas Orbiter mission manager. "We have reached this orbit for the first time through aerobraking and with the heaviest orbiter ever sent to the Red Planet, ready to start searching for signs of life from orbit."
- "We will start our science mission in just a couple of weeks and are extremely excited about what the first measurements will reveal," says Håkan Svedhem, the orbiter's project scientist. "We have the sensitivity to detect rare gases in minute proportions, with the potential to discover if Mars is still active today – biologically or geologically speaking."
- The primary goal is to take a detailed inventory of trace gases – those that make up less than 1% of the total volume of the planet's atmosphere. In particular, the orbiter will seek evidence of methane and other gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological activity.
- On Earth, living organisms release much of the planet's methane. It is also the main component of naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas reservoirs, and a contribution is also provided by volcanic and hydrothermal activity.
- Methane on Mars is expected to have a rather short lifetime – around 400 years – because it is broken down by ultraviolet light from the Sun. It also reacts with other species in the atmosphere, and is subject to mixing and dispersal by winds. That means, if it is detected today, it was likely created or released from an ancient reservoir relatively recently.
Figure 16: The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is set to analyze the martian atmosphere, in particular trace gases like methane. Although making up a very small amount of the overall atmospheric inventory, methane in particular holds key clues to the planet's current state of activity. This graphic depicts some of the possible ways methane might be added or removed from the atmosphere. One exciting possibility is that methane is generated by microbes. If buried underground, this gas could be stored in lattice-structured ice formations known as clathrates, and released to the atmosphere at a much later time (image credit: ESA/ATG medialab)
Legend to Figure 16: Methane can also be generated by reactions between water and olivine-rich rocks, perhaps in combination with warmer, volcanic environments. Again, this could be stored underground in icy cages, and outgassed through cracks in the surface – or through volcanoes. Ultraviolet radiation can both break down the methane and generate it through reactions with other molecules or organic material already on the surface, such as comet dust falling onto Mars. Methane can also be quickly distributed around the planet by strong winds, ‘diluting' its signal and making it challenging to identify individual sources.
Methane on Mars is expected to have a rather short lifetime – around 400 years – so any detections imply it must have been produced or released relatively recently. The Trace Gas Orbiter will build up a picture over time of the methane distribution, to understand geographic and seasonal distributions, and eventually home in on areas where it might be originating.
The spacecraft has the capability to detect and analyze methane and other trace gases, even in low concentrations, with an improved accuracy of three orders of magnitude compared to previous measurements. Furthermore, it will be able to detect key ‘isotopologues' of methane and water (isotopologues are molecules that have at least one atom with a different number of neutrons than the parent chemical species) to help distinguish between the different formation scenarios.
Figure 17: The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter will use a neutron detector, namely FREND (Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector), to map subsurface hydrogen to a depth of 1 m to reveal deposits of water-ice hidden just below the surface (image credit: ESA/ATG medialab)
Legend to Figure 17: The graphic shows a simple representation of the detection process. Cosmic rays constantly bombard the surface of Mars; they knock neutrons out of the atoms they encounter on the surface and underneath. If water or frozen water-ice is present, hydrogen atoms cause multiple reflections in their paths through the subsurface, slowing down the neutrons. While some neutrons are captured in the subsurface, others escape back out into space. The speeds at which they arrive at the detector on TGO help determine the nature of the subsurface: those that have interacted with water will have lost some of their energy, and be travelling relatively slower than those that have not.
- The four instruments will make complementary measurements of the atmosphere, surface and subsurface. Its camera will help to characterize features on the surface that may be related to trace-gases sources.
- Its instruments will also look for water-ice hidden just below the surface, which along with potential trace gas sources could guide the choice for future mission landing sites.
- It will also soon start providing communication relay for NASA's Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, ahead of the arrival of NASA's InSight lander later this year, and for the ExoMars rover and surface science platform in March 2021.
- Preliminary relay tests with NASA's rovers were conducted in November 2016, shortly after the orbiter's arrival at Mars. Eventually, it will provide multiple data relay connections each week. — The ExoMars program is a joint endeavor between ESA and Roscosmos.
• February 21, 2018: ESA is reporting that the "surfing is complete" — referring to "the 'aerobraking campaign' during which we commanded ExoMars to dip into the wispy, upper-most tendrils of the atmosphere once per revolution, slowing the craft and lowering its orbit," says ESA flight director Michel Denis. 30)
- "This took advantage of the faint drag on the solar wings, steadily transforming the orbit. It's been a major challenge for the mission teams supported by European industry, but they've done an excellent job and we've reached our initial goal. During some orbits, we were just 103 km above Mars, which is incredibly close."
- The end of this effort came at 17:20 GMT on 20 February, when the spacecraft fired its thrusters for about 16 minutes to raise the closest approach to the surface to about 200 km, well out of the atmosphere. This effectively ended the aerobraking campaign, leaving it in an orbit of about 1050 km x 200 km.
- "Aerobraking works only because we spent significant time in the atmosphere during each orbit, and then repeated this over 950 times," says Michel. "Over a year, we've reduced the speed of the spacecraft by an enormous 3600 km/h, lowering its orbit by the necessary amount."
- Trimming: In the next month, the control team will command the craft through a series of up to 10 orbit-trimming maneuvers, one every few days, firing its thrusters to adjust the orbit to its final two-hour, circular shape at about 400 km altitude, expected to be achieved around mid-April.
Figure 18: CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) is the high-resolution camera on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. It is capable of acquiring color stereo images of surface features possibly associated with trace gas sources and sinks in order to better understand the range of processes that might be related to trace gas emission. - This image shows the principle of stereo image acquisition. It takes an image looking slightly forwards, and then the camera is rotated to look ‘back' to take the second part of the image, in order to see the same region of the surface from two different angles. By combining the image pair, information about the relative heights of the surface features can be seen (image credit: University of Bern)
- The initial phases of science gathering, in mid-March, will be devoted to checking out the instruments and conducting preliminary observations for calibration and validation. The start of routine science observations should happen around 21 April.
- "Then, the spacecraft will be reoriented to keep its camera pointing downwards and its spectrometers towards the Sun, so as to observe the Mars atmosphere, and we can finally begin the long-awaited science phase of the mission," says Håkan Svedhem, ESA's project scientist.
- The main goal is to take a detailed inventory of trace gases, in particular seeking out evidence of methane and other gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological activity.
- A suite of four science instruments will make complementary measurements of the atmosphere, surface and subsurface. Its camera will help to characterize features on the surface that may be related to trace-gases sources, such as volcanoes. - It will also look for water-ice hidden just below the surface, which along with potential trace gas sources could guide the choice for future mission landing sites.
- Long-distance calls: April will also see the spacecraft test its data-relay capability, a crucial aspect of its mission at Mars.
- A NASA-supplied radio relay payload will catch data signals from US rovers on the surface and relay these to ground stations on Earth. Data relaying will get underway on a routine basis later in the summer.
- Starting in 2021, once ESA's own ExoMars rover arrives, the orbiter will provide data-relay services for both agencies and for a Russian surface science platform. - ExoMars is a joint endeavor between ESA and Roscosmos.
• February 1, 2018: According to Armelle Hubault, the Spacecraft Operations Engineer on the TGO flight control team, the ExoMars mission has made tremendous progress and is well on its way to establishing its final near-circular orbit at an altitude of ~400 km around the Red Planet. 31)
- The graphic of Figure 19 provides a very concise visualization of the fantastic progress we've made with aerobraking to date. It was coded by my ExoMars TGO colleague Johannes Bauer; the bold grey lines show successive reductions in the ExoMars TGO orbital period by 1 hour; the thin lines by 30 minutes.
- We started on the biggest orbit with an apocenter (the furthest distance from Mars during each orbit) of 33,200 km and an orbit of 24 hours in March 2017, but had to pause last summer due to Mars being in conjunction.
- We recommenced aerobraking in August 2017, and are on track to finish up in the final science orbit in mid-March 2018. As of today, 30 Jan 2018, we have slowed ExoMars TGO by 781.5 m/s.
- On 30 Jan. 2018 at 15:35 CET (Central European Time), the spacecraft was where the red dot is, coming out of pericenter passage (passing through the point of closest approach over the surface – where Mars' thin, uppermost atmosphere drags on the craft the most to give the braking effect).
Figure 19: TGO aerobraking visualization to March 2018 (image credit: ESA)
- The blue line is the current orbit, which takes only 2 hrs and 48 min and with the apocenter reduced to 2700 km; the red line shows the final aerobraking orbit we expect to achieve later in March. Then, we will use the thrusters to maneuver the spacecraft into the green orbit (roughly 400 km circular) – the final science and operational data relay orbit. - The image is pretty much to scale.
- We have to adjust our pericenter height regularly, because on the one hand, the martian atmosphere varies in density (so sometimes we brake more and sometimes we brake less) and on the other hand, martian gravity is not the same everywhere (so sometimes the planet pulls us down and sometimes we drift out a bit). We try to stay at about 110 km altitude for optimum braking effect.
- To keep the spacecraft on track, we upload a new set of commands every day – so for us, for flight dynamics and for the ground station teams, it's a very demanding time!
- When TGO skims through the atmosphere, it has to adopt a specific orientation to optimize the braking effect and to make sure it stays stable and does not start to spin madly, which would not be optimal. — We are basically using the solar panels as ‘wings' to slow us down and circularize the orbit.
- The main challenge at the moment is that, since we never know in advance how much the spacecraft is going to be slowed during each pericenter passage, we also never know exactly when it is going to reestablish contact with our ground stations after pointing back to Earth.
- We are working with a 20-min ‘window' for acquisition of signal (AOS), when the ground station first catches TGO's signal during any given station visibility, whereas normally for interplanetary missions we have a firm AOS time programmed in advance.
- With the current orbital period now just below 3 hrs, we go through this little exercise 8 times per day!
• January 24, 2018: In 2013, the European Space Agency and Roscosmos—the Russian governmental body responsible for space research—agreed to cooperate on ExoMars, the first joint interplanetary mission between ESA and Russia. This project now involves scientists from 29 research organizations, including MIPT (Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology) and the IKI (Space Research Institute) of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), which is the leading contributor of hardware and equipment on the Russian side. By now, the first package of observation instruments has been delivered into Mars orbit to seek minor chemical components of the planet's atmosphere that may be traces of primitive life (Ref. 72). 32)
- Even if the new data prove to be inconclusive, they will definitely heat up the discussion on whether there ever was life on the red planet. In early 2018, the ExoMars satellite with research instruments on board will lower into its operational orbit and begin observations of the Martian atmosphere. A recent article in Space Science Reviews describes the makeup and objectives of one of the two Russian-built instruments carried by the orbiter.
- The ExoMars joint space mission of ESA and Roscosmos involves two phases. The first one started on March 14, 2016, with the launch of a Proton-M booster rocket from Russia's space complex in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The rocket launched two modules: the Schiaparelli lander and the TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter). The two were delivered to Mars in 226 days, making a journey of 500 million km.
- Schiaparelli was intended to test the technology for future landings. It attempted a landing, but crashed to the surface. TGO's objectives are to detect trace gases in the atmosphere, map water ice distribution below the surface, and conduct high-resolution imaging, including stereo surface imaging.
- The favorable launch windows for Mars trajectories happen once in about two years, and the second phase of the ExoMars mission is scheduled for 2020. A new lander will deploy a rover to navigate autonomously across the Martian surface, transmitting the data it collects via TGO. The main objective of the ExoMars mission is to explore whether life ever existed on Mars.
Figure 20: Three observation modes of the Trace Gas Orbiter: the so-called solar occultation measurements (top right) of light passing through the Martian atmosphere and nadir, or "straight-down," measurements of reflected sunlight and Mars' own radiation from its dayside (left) and nightside (right), image credit: IKI, MIPT, Research Team
- The TGO satellite carries four scientific instruments: a high-resolution color imaging system, a high-resolution neutron detector, and two spectrometer suites. The epithermal neutron detector and the ACS (Atmospheric Chemistry Suite) were built at the Space Research Institute in Moscow (IKI).
- TGO's primary scientific objective is to study the climate, atmosphere, and surface of Mars. Using its onboard detectors, sensitive enough to spot trace amounts of gases, the orbiter is expected to settle the doubts concerning the presence of atmospheric methane on Mars. This gas was previously detected by Earth-based telescopes and NASA's Curiosity rover.
- The Russian-built ACS (Figure 55) comprises three infrared spectrometers. It is sensitive enough to detect and measure trace amounts of atmospheric gases such as methane, which could be a sign of geological or biological activity on Mars. The spectrometers have a resolving power of 10,000 or more and a broad spectral coverage—from 0.7 to 17 micrometers. With their help, TGO will clarify the role of the major Martian atmospheric constituents—carbon dioxide, water vapor, and aerosols—in the planet's climate.
Figure 21: The main photochemical pathways known or expected to occur on Mars and their relation to ACS measurement capabilities (image credit: IKI, MIPT, Research Team)
- The near-infrared (NIR) channel is accommodated by a versatile echelle spectrometer covering the spectral range between 0.7 and 1.6 µm with a resolving power of about 20,000. This device will mainly focus on the measurements of water vapor, aerosols, the dayside airglows of molecular oxygen, and the nightside airglows caused by the photochemical processes in the Martian atmosphere. Observations in the NIR band will be conducted in three primary modes (Figure 21). Namely, the solar occultation measurements of light passing through the Martian atmosphere and the nadir—or "straight-down"—measurements of sunlight reflected by the planet and its own radiation. Limb measurements are also supported.
- The MIR (Mid-Infrared) channel is a cross-dispersion echelle spectrometer dedicated to solar occultation measurements in the 2.2-4.4 µm range. It has a resolving power of more than 50,000. By design, ACS-MIR will make high-sensitivity measurements of trace gas content, including methane and aerosol concentrations, and the deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio. Meeting the key objectives of the ExoMars mission will depend on observations in the mid-infrared band. It is largely this channel that holds promise of a scientific breakthrough.
- "It enables measurements of Martian atmosphere that are hundreds of times more accurate than ever before," says chief engineer Alexander Trokhimovskiy of the IKI/RAS, who led the work on ACS-MIR. "Also, the probe is bound for an orbit that makes fairly frequent solar occultation observations possible."
- MIPT (Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology) has developed data processing algorithms and designed a general circulation model of Martian atmosphere, which is required for planning experiments and interpreting their results," adds Alexander Rodin, the head of the Applied Infrared Spectroscopy Lab at MIPT.
- Known as TIRVIM, the third ACS instrument is a Fourier-transform spectrometer operating in the 1.7-17 µm range with a resolution of 0.2-1.3 /cm. It is responsible for gathering the data on Martian climate: atmospheric temperature profiles, dust content, and surface temperature. Thermal infrared measurements are expected to map temperatures from the surface of the planet all the way up to the altitude of about 60 km. The instrument will also make it possible to estimate the optical depths of Martian dust and clouds with unparalleled precision, providing an opportunity to detect ozone and hydrogen peroxide—two gases fundamental to Martian photochemistry (Figure 21).
- The TIRVIM detector owes the first half of its name to the thermal infrared, or TIR, spectral band, but the three final letters in the acronym honor Vasily Ivanovich Moroz, the founder of Russian infrared spectrometry and long-standing head of the Department of Planetary Physics at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
• October 16, 2017: Diffuse, water-ice clouds, a hazy sky and a light breeze. Such might have read a weather forecast for the Tharsis volcanic region on Mars on 22 November 2016, when this image was taken by the ExoMars TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter). 33)
- Below, 630 km west of the volcano Arsia Mons, the southernmost of the Tharsis volcanoes, outlines of ancient lava flows dominate the surface (Figure 22). The dark streaks are due to the action of wind on the dark-colored basaltic sands, while redder patches are wind blown dust. A handful of small impact craters can also be seen.
- The Trace Gas Orbiter, a joint effort between ESA and Roscosmos, arrived at Mars on 19 October last year. Since March it has been repeatedly surfing in and out of the atmosphere, generating a tiny amount of drag that will steadily pull it into a near-circular 400 km altitude orbit. It is expected to begin its full science operational phase from this orbit in early 2018.
- Prior to this ‘aerobraking' phase, several test periods were assigned to check the four science instrument suites from orbit and to refine data processing and calibration techniques.
- The false-color composite shown here was made from images taken with the CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) in the near-infrared, red and blue channels.
- The image is centered at 131°W / 8.5°S. The ground resolution is 20.35 m/pixel, and the image is about 58 km across. At the time the image was taken, the altitude was 1791 km, yielding a ground track speed of 1.953 km/s.
Figure 22: A cloudy day over volcanic Mars, captured by the ExoMars orbiter. Clouds, most likely of water-ice, and atmospheric haze in the sky are colored blue/white in this image (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• May 24, 2017: The inquiry into the crash-landing of the ExoMars Schiaparelli module has concluded, that conflicting information in the onboard computer caused the descent sequence to end prematurely. 34)
- The Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing demonstrator module separated from its mothership, the TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter), as planned on 16 October last year, and coasted towards Mars for three days.
- Much of the six-minute descent on 19 October 2016 went as expected: the module entered the atmosphere correctly, with the heatshield protecting it at supersonic speeds. Sensors on the front and back shields collected useful scientific and engineering data on the atmosphere and heatshield.
Figure 23: Schiaparelli's heatshield was equipped with a variety of sensors designed to take measurements as the module entered the atmosphere. The COMARS+ (Combined Aerothermal and Radiometer Sensors Instrument Package), used sensors on the back heatshield to measure pressure, temperature and heat flux. System sensors on the front shield were monitored by the data housekeeping system (image credit: ESA/ATG medialab)
- Telemetry from Schiaparelli was relayed to the main craft, which was entering orbit around the Red Planet at the same time – the first time this had been achieved in Mars exploration. This realtime transmission proved invaluable in reconstructing the unfolding chain of events.
- At the same time as the orbiter recorded Schiaparelli's transmissions, ESA's Mars Express orbiter also monitored the lander's carrier signal, as did the Giant Meterwave Radio Telescope in India.
- In the days and weeks afterwards, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took a number of images identifying the module, the front shield, and the parachute still connected with the backshield, on Mars, very close to the targeted landing site.
- The images of Figure 24 suggested that these pieces of hardware had separated from the module as expected, although the arrival of Schiaparelli had clearly been at a high speed, with debris strewn around the impact site.
- The independent external inquiry, chaired by ESA's Inspector General, has now been completed.
- It identifies the circumstances and the root causes, and makes general recommendations to avoid such defects and weaknesses in the future. The report summary can be downloaded here. A summary of the final report is available in PDF. 35)
- Around three minutes after atmospheric entry the parachute deployed, but the module experienced unexpected high rotation rates. This resulted in a brief ‘saturation' – where the expected measurement range is exceeded – of the Inertial Measurement Unit, which measures the lander's rotation rate.
- The saturation resulted in a large attitude estimation error by the guidance, navigation and control system software. The incorrect attitude estimate, when combined with the later radar measurements, resulted in the computer calculating that it was below ground level.
Figure 24: Composite of the ExoMars Schiaparelli module elements seen by NASA's MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) on 1 November 2016. Both the main impact site (top) and the region with the parachute and rear heatshield (bottom left) are now captured in the central portion of the HiRISE imaging swath that is imaged through three different filters, enabling a color image to be constructed. The front heatshield (bottom right) lies outside the central color imaging swath (image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona) 36)
Legend to Figure 24: The colors have been graded according to the specific region to best reveal the contrast of features against the martian background. These images are in raw image geometry rather than map-projected, and north is about 7º west of straight up.
- This resulted in the early release of the parachute and back-shell, a brief firing of the thrusters for only 3 sec instead of 30 sec, and the activation of the on-ground system as if Schiaparelli had landed. The surface science package returned one housekeeping data packet before the signal was lost.
- In reality, the module was in free-fall from an altitude of about 3.7 km, resulting in an estimated impact speed of 540 km/h.
- The Schiaparelli Inquiry Board report noted that the module was very close to landing successfully at the planned location and that a very important part of the demonstration objectives were achieved. The flight results revealed required software upgrades, and will help improve computer models of parachute behavior.
- "The realtime relay of data during the descent was crucial to provide this in-depth analysis of Schiaparelli's fate," says David Parker, ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration.
- "We are extremely grateful to the teams of hard-working scientists and engineers who provided the scientific instruments and prepared the investigations on Schiaparelli, and deeply regret that the results were curtailed by the untimely end of the mission. - There were clearly a number of areas that should have been given more attention in the preparation, validation and verification of the entry, descent and landing system. We will take the lessons learned with us as we continue to prepare for the ExoMars 2020 rover and surface platform mission. Landing on Mars is an unforgiving challenge but one that we must meet to achieve our ultimate goals."
- "Interestingly, had the saturation not occurred and the final stages of landing had been successful, we probably would not have identified the other weak spots that contributed to the mishap," notes Jan Woerner, ESA's Director General. "As a direct result of this inquiry we have discovered the areas that require particular attention that will benefit the 2020 mission."
- ExoMars 2020 (Figure 25) has since passed an important review confirming it is on track to meet the launch window. Having been fully briefed on the status of the project, ESA Member States at the Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration Program Board reconfirmed their commitment to the mission, which includes the first Mars rover dedicated to drilling below the surface to search for evidence of life on the Red Planet.
- Meanwhile the Trace Gas Orbiter has begun its year-long aerobraking in the fringes of the atmosphere that will deliver it to its science orbit in early 2018. The spacecraft has already shown its scientific instruments are ready for work in two observing opportunities in November and March.
- In addition to its main goal of analyzing the atmosphere for gases that may be related to biological or geological activity, the orbiter will also act as a relay for the 2020 rover and surface platform. — The ExoMars program is a joint endeavor between ESA and Roscosmos.
Figure 25: Artist's impression of the ExoMars 2020 rover (foreground), surface science platform (background) and the Trace Gas Orbiter (top). Not to scale (image credit: ESA/ATG medialab)
• March 28, 2017: Two ancient sites on Mars that hosted an abundance of water in the planet's early history have been recommended as the final candidates for the landing site of the 2020 ExoMars rover and surface science platform: Oxia Planum and Mawrth Vallis. 37)
- A primary technical constraint is that the landing site be at a suitably low level, so that there is sufficient atmosphere to help slow the landing module's parachute descent. Then, the 120 x 19 km landing ellipse should not contain features that could endanger the landing, the deployment of the surface platform ramps for the rover to exit, and driving of the rover. This means scrutinizing the region for steep slopes, loose material and large rocks.
- Oxia Planum was selected in 2015 for further detailed evaluation. Although not yet complete, the investigation so far indicates that the region would meet the various constraints. In addition, one other site had to be chosen from Aram Dorsum and Mawrth Vallis.
- After a two-day meeting with experts from the Mars science community, industry, and ExoMars project, during which the scientific merits of the three sites were presented alongside the preliminary compliance status with the engineering constraints, it was concluded that Mawrth Vallis will be the second site to be evaluated in more detail.
- Around a year before launch, the final decision will be taken on which site will become the ExoMars 2020 landing target.
- All of the sites lie just north of the equator, in a region with many channels cutting through from the southern highlands to the northern highlands. As such, they preserve a rich record of geological history from the planet's wetter past billions of years ago, and are prime targets for missions like ExoMars that are searching for signatures of past life on Mars.
- Oxia Planum lies at a boundary where many channels emptied into the vast lowland plains and exhibits layers of clay-rich minerals that were formed in wet conditions some 3.9 billion years ago.
- Observations from orbit show that the minerals in Oxia Planum are representative of those found in a wide area around this region, and so would provide insight into the conditions experienced at a global scale during this epoch of martian history.
- Mawrth Vallis is a large outflow channel a few hundred kilometers away from Oxia Planum. The proposed landing ellipse is just to the south of the channel. The entire region exhibits extensively layered, clay-rich sedimentary deposits, and a diversity of minerals that suggests a sustained presence of water over a period of several hundred million years, perhaps including localized ponds.
- In addition, light-toned fractures containing ‘veins' of water-altered minerals point to interactions between rocks and liquid in subsurface aquifers, and possible hydrothermal activity that may have been beneficial to any ancient life forms.
- Mawrth Vallis offers a window into a large period of martian history that could probe the early evolution of the planet's environment over time. "While all three sites under discussion would give us excellent opportunities to look for signatures of ancient biomarkers and gain new insights into the planet's wetter past, we can only carry two sites forward for further detailed analysis," says Jorge Vago, ESA's ExoMars rover project scientist. "Thus, after an intense meeting, which focused primarily on the scientific merits of the sites, the Landing Site Selection Working Group has recommended that Mawrth Vallis join Oxia Planum as one of the final two candidates for the ExoMars 2020 mission. Both candidate sites would explore a period of ancient martian history that hasn't been studied by previous missions."
Figure 26: Oxia Planum texture map (image credit: Base map: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University; analysis: IRSPS/TAS-I)
Legend to Figure 26: One example of how the Oxia Planum landing site under consideration for the ExoMars 2020 mission is being analyzed. The map outlines a boundary (red) that encapsulates the range of possible 120 x 19 km landing ellipses, with some added margin. Elevation contours are also indicated. The colors represent the variety of surface terrains identified, including plains (green shades), channels (blues), impact craters (yellow, with black outlines), and wind-blown features (pink). It is not a geological map intended for scientific analysis, but rather a tool used to identify different surface textures and where potential hazards may lie.
Figure 27: Mawrth Vallis martian mosaic (image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Legend to Figure 9: Sculpted by ancient water flowing on the surface, Mawrth Vallis is one of the most remarkable outflow channels on Mars. The valley, once a potentially habitable place, is one of the main features of a region at the boundary between the southern highlands and the northern lowlands.
Mawrth Vallis takes center stage in this image, a bird's eye view of a 330,000 km2 area surrounding the valley. With a length of 600 km and a depth of up to 2 km, it is one of the biggest valleys on Mars. Huge amounts of water once passed through it, from a higher elevation region, part of which is shown in the lower right of the image, into the northern plains, in the top left.
Among the remarkable features are the large exposures of light-toned phyllosilicates (weathered clay minerals) that lie along its course. Phyllosilicates on Mars are evidence of the past presence of liquid water and point to the possibility that habitable environments could have existed on the planet up until 3.6 billion years ago.
A dark cap rock, remains of ancient volcanic ash, covers many of the clays and could have protected traces of ancient microbes in the rocks from radiation and erosion. This makes Mawrth Vallis one of the most interesting regions for geologists and astrobiologists alike. It is one of the candidate landing sites for ExoMars 2020, a joint mission between ESA and Russia, with the primary goal of finding out if life once existed on Mars.
The name comes from the Welsh word for Mars ("Mawrth") and the Latin for valley ("Vallis"). This mosaic was created using nine individual images taken by the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, which has been orbiting Mars since late 2003. It is one of a set of images of this region previously published on 7 July 2016 on the DLR website and the homepage of the Freie Universität Berlin.
• March 27, 2017: Choosing the rover's landing site is a demanding and lengthy process, because it must not only be interesting scientifically but also safe from an engineering viewpoint. Establishing whether life ever existed on Mars is at the heart of the ExoMars program, thus the chosen site should be ancient – around 3.9 billion years old – with abundant evidence of water having been present for extended periods. 38)
- The rover has a drill (the dark grey box at the front in Figure 28) that is capable of extracting samples from depths of 2 m. This is crucial, because the present surface of Mars is a hostile place for living organisms owing to the harsh solar and cosmic radiation. By searching underground, the rover has a better chance of finding preserved evidence.
- From an engineering perspective, the site has to be low-lying, to allow the entry module to descend through enough atmosphere to help slow its descent with parachutes, and it must not contain features that could endanger the landing, such as craters, steep slopes and large rocks.
Figure 28: ESA's ExoMars rover (foreground) and Russia's stationary surface science platform (background) are scheduled for launch in July 2020, arriving at Mars in March 2021. The Trace Gas Orbiter, which has been at Mars since October 2016, will act as a relay station for the mission, as well as conducting its own science mission (image credit: ESA/ATG medialab)
- The 310 kg rover will traverse the martian landscape on six wheels (Figure 29). It will be the first rover capable of drilling down 2 m, where ancient biomarkers may still be preserved from the harsh radiation environment on the surface. The drill is housed in the large box at the front of the rover. It will collect samples with the drill and deliver them to the Analytical Laboratory Drawer in the body of the rover, via the sample delivery window.
- The drill, shown here with the front casing of the drill box removed to reveal the interior, also contains the Mars Multispectral Imager for Subsurface Studies (Ma_MISS), which will image the walls of the borehole created by the drill to study the mineralogy and rock formation.
- PanCam, the panoramic camera, will provide stereo and 3D imagery of the terrain around the rover. ISEM (Infrared Spectrometer for ExoMars) will determine the major mineral composition of distant rocks, outcrops, and soils. CLUPI (Close-Up Imager) will acquire high-resolution, color, close-up images of outcrops, rocks, soils, drill fines and drill core samples. Navigation cameras and ‘localisation' cameras are used to determine where the rover is and where it will move.
Figure 29: Artist's impression of the ExoMars 2020 rover. This image shows the rover as viewed from the front (image credit: ESA/ATG medialab)
- The rover will traverse the martian landscape on six wheels. Power is supplied to the rover by solar arrays. These are folded during the journey to Mars and deployed once the rover is on the martian surface. Two UHF monopole antennas are used to communicate with Mars orbiters, including the Trace Gas Orbiter.
- The antennas of the WISDOM ground-penetrating radar can be seen in this view (Figure 30). The WISDOM (Water Ice Subsurface Deposit Observation on Mars) instrument suite will provide a detailed view of the Red Planet's shallow subsurface structure by sounding the upper layers of its crust. This will give three-dimensional geological context of the terrain covered by the rover.
Figure 30: Artist's impression of the ExoMars 2020 rover. This image shows the rover as viewed from behind (image credit: ESA/ATG medialab)
• March 16, 2017: The ExoMars TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) has completed another set of important science calibration tests before a year of aerobraking gets underway. The mission was launched a year ago this week, and has been orbiting the Red Planet since 19 October. During two dedicated orbits in late November 2016, the science instruments made their first calibration measurements since arriving at Mars. The latest tests were carried out 5–7 March from a different orbit, and included checking procedures associated with taking images and collecting data on the planet's atmosphere. 39)
- For example, the NOMAD (Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery) instrument made test observations to help determine the best settings to make future measurements of trace gases in the atmosphere (Figure 31). Methane in particular is of high interest. On Earth it is produced primarily by biological activity, and to a smaller extent by geological processes, such as some hydrothermal reactions. Understanding how the Red Planet's methane is produced therefore has extremely exciting implications.
- NOMAD also had the opportunity to test joint measurements with the ACS (Atmospheric Chemistry Suite), which together will take highly sensitive measurements of the atmosphere to determine its constituents.
Figure 31: Test measurements of the martian atmosphere by the ExoMars TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) NOMAD spectrometer, made on 6 March 2017. The spectra were acquired with the infrared channel of the instrument, by looking at the sunlight reflected from the planet's surface. It shows the presence of water vapor. The three colors represent three spectra taken at different times, as indicated in the legend (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/NOMAD/BISA/IAA/INAF/OU)
- Meanwhile, the FREND (Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector) detector continued to collect more on the flow of neutrons from the surface. Eventually, these data will be used to identify sites where water or ice might be hidden just below the surface.
- The high-resolution CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) was commanded to take a number of images, including star calibrations, and several pointing at Mars. An example is presented here, taken just as the orbiter was crossing the boundary between day and night, over the southern hemisphere. "These dress rehearsals enable our science teams to fine-tune their data acquisition techniques including pointing commands, iron out any software bugs, and get used to working with the data, well in advance of the start of the main mission starting next year," says Håkan Svedhem, ESA's project scientist. "What we're seeing so far is really promising for our science goals."
Figure 32: The ExoMars TGO ACS (Atmospheric Chemistry Suite) made test measurements of the martian atmosphere between 28 February and 7 March 2017 (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/ACS/IKI)
Legend to Figure 32: An example spectra is shown in the plot, made at thermal-infrared wavelengths. The deep and wide spectral band at the left of the plot is due to carbon dioxide, the main component of the martian atmosphere. Information held in the center of this band corresponds to the temperature of the upper layers of the atmosphere, while the ‘wings' correspond to the lower layers. - Information like this will enable scientists to compute the temperature profile of the atmosphere, which in turn will contribute to computer models of global atmosphere circulation.
- Starting next year, the craft will make its observations from a near-circular 400 km-altitude orbit, circling the planet every two hours. TGO is currently in a one-day, 200 x 33 000 km orbit but will use the atmosphere to adjust the orbit gradually by ‘aerobraking'. It will repeatedly surf in and out of the atmosphere at closest approach, pulling down its furthest point over the course of the year.
- Earlier this week, the first commands for aerobraking were uploaded, ready to be executed starting yesterday. Over the next few weeks it will make seven engine burns that will adjust its orbit as part of a ‘walk-in' period before the main aerobraking. This will first see the closest point of the orbit reduced to about 113 km.
Figure 33: The ExoMars TGO neutron detector FREND was switched on between 24 February and 2 March, and 5–7 March 2017 and collected data during eight orbits of the planet, with three of its detectors. The data obtained during the first test campaign, and those of the second campaign will be used to estimate the spacecraft internal background radiation and the level of neutron signal from Mars (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/FREND/IKI, Ref. 39)
• March 13, 2017: As part of preparations for its main science mission to analyze the atmosphere for gases that may be related to biological or geological activity, and image sites that might be related to these sources, the TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) has conducted two campaigns to test its science instruments – one last November and one last week (Figure 34). Presented here is one of the first image pairs taken by the orbiter's high-resolution camera on 22 November, 2016. 40)
- By combining the image pair, a 3D image can be constructed and information about the relative heights of the surface features can be seen. The images were taken to test the timing of the images as the spacecraft moves over the surface, in order to best reconstruct the stereo images. Additional tests were conducted last week to fine-tune the process.
- Noctis Labyrinthus, or ‘Labyrinth of the night', lies on the western edge of Valles Marineris, the grand canyon of the Solar System, and comprises a vast network of flat-topped plateaus and trenches. Landslides are seen in the flanks of the steep slopes.
- Since arriving, the orbiter has also conducted a number of maneuvers to change its orbital period and inclination, ready to begin the year-long aerobraking phase later this week. This process will use the planet's atmosphere to gradually slow the spacecraft speed and so move it into a 400 km near-circular orbit, from which the craft will conduct its main science mission.
- The images were taken by the CaSSIS camera; the scale here is 7.2 m/pixel and the images correspond to an area on Mars about 15 x 45 km.
Figure 34: The images together form a stereo pair of part of the Noctis Labyrinthus region of Mars. The camera takes one image looking slightly forwards (bottom image in this orientation, acquired on Nov. 22, 2016), and then, after having flown over the area, it rotates to look ‘back' to take the second part of the image (top), in order to see the same region of the surface from two different angles (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)
• February 7, 2017: ESA's ExoMars orbiter has moved itself into a new path on its way to achieving the final orbit for probing the Red Planet. 41)
- In January, ExoMars TGO conducted a series of crucial maneuvers, firing its main engine to adjust its orbit around Mars. The three firings shifted its angle of travel with respect to the equator to almost 74º from the 7º of its October arrival. This essentially raised the orbit from equatorial to being much more north–south (Figure 35).
- The arrival orbit was set so that it could deliver the Schiaparelli lander to Meridiani Planum, near the equator, with good communications.
- Once science observations begin next year, the new 74º orbit will provide optimum coverage of the surface for the instruments, while still offering good visibility for relaying data from current and future landers.
- The inclination change was also a necessary step for the next challenge: a months-long ‘aerobraking' campaign designed to bring the spacecraft to its near-circular final science orbit, at an altitude of around 400 km.
- Mission controllers will command the craft to skim the wispy top of the atmosphere, generating a tiny amount of drag that will steadily pull it down. The process is set to begin in mid-March 2017, and is expected to take about 13 months.
Figure 35: TGO orbital inclination - before and after the maneuvers in January 2017 (image credit: ESA, C. Carreau)
- Just before aerobraking, in early March, the science teams will have another opportunity to switch on their instruments and make vital calibration measurements from the new orbit. This will add to the test data collected during two dedicated orbits late last year, and is important preparation for the main science mission.
• December 16, 2016: The first ExoMars mission arrived at the Red Planet in October and now the second mission has been confirmed to complete its construction for a 2020 launch. ESA and Thales Alenia Space signed a contract today that secures the completion of the European elements of the next mission. The main objective of the ExoMars program is to address one of the most outstanding scientific questions of our time: is there, or has there ever been, life on Mars? 42) 43)
- The TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) will soon be exploring this question from orbit: it will take a detailed inventory of trace gases, such as methane, that might be linked to biological or geological processes. The first test of the orbiter's science instruments was recently completed. It will also act as a communications relay for various craft – in particular for 2020's rover and surface platform.
- ESA's rover will be the first capable of drilling 2 m into Mars, where ancient biomarkers may still be preserved from the harsh radiation environment on the surface.
- The Russian platform will carry instruments focused on the local atmosphere and surroundings. ExoMars is a joint endeavor between ESA and Roscosmos, with important contribution from NASA. The contract signed in Rome, Italy, secures the completion of the European elements and the rigorous tests to prove they are ready for launch.
- These include the rover itself, which will be accommodated within the Russian descent module, along with the carrier module for cruise and delivery to Mars. ESA is also contributing important elements of the descent module, such as the parachute, radar, inertial measurement unit, UHF radio elements, and the onboard computer and software.
- The science instruments for the rover and surface platform are funded by national agencies of ESA member states, Roscosmos and NASA following calls to the scientific community.
- The structural models of the carrier and rover are expected to be delivered in January and February 2017, respectively, along with structural and thermal models of the various descent module elements.
- "ExoMars is a cornerstone of ESA's exploration program," says David Parker, ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration. "Using its miniaturized life-search laboratory and advanced robotic technology, the mission will explore the Red Planet in search of new evidence to answer questions that have long fascinated humanity. "Following the renewed support demonstrated by ESA member states in the recent Ministerial Council, this new contract allows us to complete the flight models of the European elements and keeps us on track for a July 2020 launch."
• December 16, 2016: After the smooth arrival of ESA's latest Mars orbiter, mission controllers are now preparing it for the ultimate challenge: dipping into the Red Planet's atmosphere to reach its final orbit. The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is on a multiyear mission to understand the tiny amounts of methane and other gases in Mars' atmosphere that could be evidence for possible biological or geological activity. 44)
- Following its long journey from Earth, the orbiter fired its main engine on 19 October to brake sufficiently for capture by the planet's gravity. It entered a highly elliptical orbit where its altitude varies between about 250 km and 98 000 km, with each circuit taking about four Earth days. Ultimately, however, the science goals and its role as a data relay for surface rovers mean the craft must lower itself into a near-circular orbit at just 400 km altitude, with each orbit taking about two hours.
- Aerobraking: the ultimate challenge. Mission controllers will use ‘aerobraking' to achieve this, commanding the craft to skim the wispy top of the atmosphere for the faint drag to steadily pull it down. "The amount of drag is very tiny," says spacecraft operations manager Peter Schmitz, "but after about 13 months this will be enough to reach the planned 400 km altitude while firing the engine only a few times, saving on fuel."
- During aerobraking, the team at ESA's mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, must carefully monitor the craft during each orbit to ensure it is not exposed to too much friction heating or pressure. The drag is expected to vary from orbit to orbit because of the changing atmospheric, dust storms and solar activity. This means ESA's flight dynamics teams will have to measure the orbit repeatedly to ensure it does not drop too low, too quickly. The aerobraking campaign is set to begin on 15 March, when Mars will be just over 300 million km from Earth, and will run until early 2018.
Figure 36: ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter Spacecraft Operations Manager Peter Schmitz, center, in discussions with ESA's Head of Mission Operations, Paolo Ferri, at left, during the arrival of TGO at Mars on 19 October 2016. Deputy Spacecraft Operations Manager Silvia Sangiorgi is working at the console at right (image credit: ESA, P. Shlyaev)
- Mission controllers are now working intensively to prepare the craft, the flight plan and ground systems for the campaign. First, on 19 January, they will adjust the angle of the orbit with respect to the Mars equator to 74º so that science observations can cover most of the planet.
- Next, to get into an orbit from where to start aerobraking, the high point will be reduced on 3 and 9 February 2017, leaving the craft in a 200 x 33,475 km orbit that it completes every 24 hours.
- ESA mission controllers have some previous experience with aerobraking using Venus Express, although that was done at the end of the mission as a demonstration. NASA also used aerobraking to take the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and other spacecraft into low orbits at Mars. "This will be our first time to use aerobraking to achieve an operational orbit, so we're taking the extra time available now to ensure our plans are robust and cater for any contingencies," says flight director Michel Denis.
- Beginning to slow down. Aerobraking proper will begin on 15 March, 2017 with a series of seven thruster firings, about one every three days, that will steadily lower the craft's altitude at closest approach – from 200 km to about 114 km. "Then the atmosphere can start its work, pulling us down," says Peter Schmitz. "If all goes as planned, very little fuel will then be needed until the end of aerobraking early in 2018, when final firings will circularize the 400 km orbit."
- No date has been set, but science observations can begin once the final orbit is achieved. In addition, the path will provide two to three overflights of each rover every day to relay signals.
- Spacecraft status: Overall, the spacecraft is in excellent health. On 30 November, it received an updated ‘operating system'. To date, only one ‘safe mode' has been triggered, when a glitch caused the craft to reboot and wait for corrective commands. That happened during preliminary testing of the main engine, when a faulty configuration was quickly identified and fixed. "We are delighted to be flying such an excellent spacecraft," says Michel. "We have an exciting and challenging mission ahead of us."
• December 6, 2016: The ExoMars TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) has imaged the martian moon Phobos as part of a second set of test science measurements made since it arrived at the Red Planet on 19 October. 45)
- Example data from the first orbit were published last week, focusing on Mars itself. During the second orbit, the instruments made a number of measurements of Phobos, a 27 x 22 x 18 km moon that orbits Mars at a distance of only 6000 km.
Figure 37: Phobos in 3D: The camera imaged the moon on 26 November from a distance of 7700 km, during the closest part of the spacecraft's orbit around Mars. TGO's elliptical orbit currently takes it to within 230–310 km of the surface at its closest point and around 98 000 km at its furthest every 4.2 days. A color composite has been created from several individual images taken through several filters. The camera's filters are optimized to reveal differences in mineralogical composition, seen as ‘bluer' or ‘redder' colors in the processed image. (image credit: ESA)
• November 29, 2016: Data from each of the two rovers active on Mars reached Earth last week in the successful first relay test of a NASA radio aboard Europe's new TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter). 46)
- The transmissions from NASA rovers Opportunity and Curiosity, received by one of the twin Electra radios on the orbiter on Nov. 22, mark a strengthening of the international telecommunications network supporting Mars exploration. The orbiter's main radio for communications with Earth subsequently relayed onward to Earth the data received by Electra.
- Frequent use of TGO's relay capability to support Mars rover operations is planned to begin more than a year from now. That's after the orbiter finishes adjusting its orbit to a near-circular path about400 km above Mars' surface. Meanwhile, four other active Mars orbiters also carry radios that can provide relay service for missions on the surface of Mars. The two active rovers routinely send data homeward via NASA orbiters Mars Odyssey and MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter).
- "The arrival of ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars, with its NASA-provided Electra relay payload on board, represents a significant step forward in our Mars relay capabilities," said Chad Edwards, manager of the Mars Relay Network Office within the Mars Exploration Program at NASA/JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Pasadena, California. "In concert with our three existing NASA orbiters and ESA's earlier Mars Express orbiter, we now have a truly international Mars relay network that will greatly increase the amount of data that future Mars landers and rovers can return from the surface of the Red Planet."
Figure 38: This graphic depicts the geometry of Opportunity transmitting data to the orbiter, using the UHF band of radio wavelengths. The orbiter received that data using one of its twin Electra UHF-band radios. Data that the orbiter's Electra received from the two rovers was subsequently transmitted from the orbiter to Earth, using the orbiter's main X-band radio (image credit: NASA/JPL) 47)
- NASA is on an ambitious journey to Mars that will include sending humans to the Red Planet. Current and future robotic spacecraft are leading the way and will prepare an infrastructure in advance for human missions.
- The JPL-designed Electra radios include special features for relaying data from a rover or stationary lander to an orbiter passing overhead. Relay of information from Mars-surface craft to Mars orbiters, then from the Mars orbiters to Earth, enables receiving much more data from the surface missions than would be possible with a direct-to-Earth radio link from the rovers or landers.
- "We already have almost 13 years' experience using ESA's Mars Express as an on-call backup for data relay from active Mars rovers, and TGO will greatly expand this to routine science-data relay," said Michel Denis, TGO flight director at ESA/ESOC ( European Space Operations Center), Darmstadt, Germany. "In 2020, TGO will extend this relay support to ESA's ExoMars rover and the Russian Surface Platform, an important capability together with its science mission that enhances the international data network at Mars."
- As an example of Electra capabilities, during a relay session between an Electra on the surface and one on an orbiter, the radios can maximize data volume by actively adjusting the data rate to be slower when the orbiter is near the horizon from the surface robot's perspective, faster when it is overhead (Ref. 46).
- TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter), a joint endeavor between ESA and Roscosmos, arrived at Mars on 19 October. Its elliptical orbit takes it from 230–310 km above the surface to around 98 000 km every 4.2 days. It spent the last two orbits during 20–28 November testing its four science instruments for the first time since arrival, and making important calibration measurements.
- Data from the first orbit has been made available for this release to illustrate the range of observations to be expected once the craft arrives into its near-circular 400 km-altitude orbit late next year.
- TGO's main goal is to make a detailed inventory of rare gases that make up less than 1% of the atmosphere's volume, including methane, water vapor, nitrogen dioxide and acetylene. Of high interest is methane, which on Earth is produced primarily by biological activity, and to a smaller extent by geological processes such as some hydrothermal reactions.
Figure 39: A 25 km-wide image strip over a structure called Arsia Chasmata, which lies on the flank of the large volcano Arsia Mons. The formation is volcanic in origin and many pit craters, possibly caused by subsidence, can be seen. The image was taken on 22 November 2016 and is one of the first acquired by the CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) onboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. The image was taken as part of an eight-day campaign to test the science instruments for the first time since arriving at the Red Planet on 19 October [image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE; mosaicking tool: AutoStitch (University of British Columbia)]
- The two instruments tasked with this role have now demonstrated they can take highly sensitive spectra of the atmosphere. During the test observations last week, the Atmospheric Chemistry Suite focused on carbon dioxide, which makes up a large volume of the planet's atmosphere, while the Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery instrument homed in on water.
- They also coordinated observations with ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, as they will in the future.
Figure 40: First look at the atmosphere: NOMAD infrared measurements (limb, nadir and occultation mode) acquired on Nov. 22, 2016 (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/BIRA)
Figure 41: First look at the atmosphere: NOMAD ultraviolet and visible measurements acquired on Nov. 22, 2016 (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/BIRA)
- Complementary measurements by the orbiter's neutron detector, FREND (Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector), will measure the flow of neutrons from the planet's surface. Created by the impact of cosmic rays, the way in which they are emitted and their speed on arriving at TGO points to the composition of the surface layer, in particular to water or ice just below the surface.
- The instrument has been active at various times during the cruise to Mars and on recent occasions while flying close to the surface could identify the relative difference between regions of known higher and lower neutron flux, although it will take several months to produce statistically significant results.
Figure 42: First detection of atmospheric carbon dioxide: ACS (Atmospheric Chemistry Suite) measurement of carbon dioxide (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/UniBE)
- The different capabilities of the CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) were also demonstrated, with 11 images captured during the first close flyby on 22 November. At closest approach the spacecraft was 235 km from the surface, and flying over the Hebes Chasma region, just north of the Valles Marineris canyon system. These are some of the closest images that will ever be taken of the planet by TGO, given that the spacecraft's final orbit will be at around 400 km altitude.
Figure 43: First ExoMars stereo reconstruction of CaSSIS observations (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/UniBE)
- The camera team also completed a quick first test of producing a 3D reconstruction of a region in Noctis Labyrinthus, from a stereo pair of images. Although the images are impressively sharp, data collected during this test period will help to improve the camera's onboard software as well as the quality of the images after processing.
Figure 44: First neutron flux measurements of FREND (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/UniBE)
- "We are extremely happy and proud to see that all the instruments are working so well in the Mars environment, and this first impression gives a fantastic preview of what's to come when we start collecting data for real at the end of next year," says Håkan Svedhem, ESA's TGO Project Scientist. "Not only is the spacecraft itself clearly performing well, but I am delighted to see the various teams working together so effectively in order to give us this impressive insight.
- "We have identified areas that can be fine-tuned well in advance of the main science mission, and we look forward to seeing what this amazing science orbiter will do in the future."
Figure 45: Close-up of the rim of a large unnamed crater north of a crater named Da Vinci, situated near the Mars equator. A smaller, 1.4 km-diameter crater is seen in the rim along the left hand side of the image. The image scale is 7.2 m/pixel. The image was taken on 22 November 2016 and is one of the first acquired by the CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) onboard the ExoMars TGO. The image was taken as part of an eight-day campaign to test the science instruments for the first time since arriving at the Red Planet on 19 October (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE)
Figure 46: ExoMars science orbit 1: A graphic summarising when the TGO instruments were operating during the 20–24 November orbit (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/BIRA, Ref. 48)
• November 18, 2016: The ExoMars orbiter is preparing to make its first scientific observations at Mars during two orbits of the planet starting next week. The TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter), a joint endeavor between ESA and Roscosmos, arrived at Mars on 19 October. It entered orbit, as planned, on a highly elliptical path that takes it from between 230 and 310 km above the surface to around 98,000 km every 4.2 days. 50)
- The main science mission will only begin once it reaches a near-circular orbit about 400 km above the planet's surface after a year of ‘aerobraking' – using the atmosphere to gradually brake and change its orbit. Full science operations are expected to begin by March 2018.
- But next week provides the science teams with a chance to calibrate their instruments and make the first test observations now the spacecraft is actually at Mars.
- In fact, the neutron detector has been on for much of TGO's cruise to Mars and is currently collecting data to continue calibrating the background flux and checking that nothing changed after the Schiaparelli module detached from the spacecraft. - It will measure the flow of neutrons from the martian surface, created by the impact of cosmic rays. The way in which they are emitted and their speed on arriving at TGO will tell scientists about the composition of the surface layer. In particular, because even small quantities of hydrogen can cause a change in the neutron speed, the sensor will be able to seek out locations where ice or water may exist, within the planet's top 1–2 m.
- The orbiter's other three instruments have a number of test observations scheduled during 20–28 November.
- During the primary science mission two instrument suites will make complementary measurements to take a detailed inventory of the atmosphere, particularly those gases that are present only in trace amounts. Of high interest is methane, which on Earth is produced primarily by biological activity or geological processes such as some hydrothermal reactions.
- In the upcoming orbits there are only opportunities for pointing towards the horizon or directly at the surface. This will allow the science teams to check the pointing of their instrument to best prepare for future measurements. - There is the possibility that they might detect some natural nightside airglow – an emission of light in the upper atmosphere produced when atoms broken apart by the solar wind recombine to form molecules, releasing energy in the form of light.
- During the second orbit, the scientists have also planned observations of Phobos, the larger and innermost of the planet's two moons.
- Finally, the camera will take its first test images at Mars next week. In each of the two orbits, it will first point at stars to calibrate itself for measuring the planet's surface reflectance.
- CASSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) is the high-resolution camera onboard the TGO. It is capable of acquiring color stereo images of surface features possibly associated with trace gas sources and sinks in order to better understand the range of processes that might be related to trace gas emission (see Figure 59).
• November 3, 2016: New high-resolution images taken by a NASA's MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) on Nov. 1, show parts of the ExoMars Schiaparelli module and its landing site in color on the Red Planet. The main impact site is now captured in the central portion of the swath that is imaged by the high-resolution camera through three filters, enabling a color image to be constructed. In addition, the image of November 1 was taken looking slightly to the west, while the earlier image was looking to the east, providing a contrasting viewing geometry. 51)
- Indeed, the latest image set sheds new light on some of the details that could only be speculated from the first look on October 25. For example, a number of the bright white spots around the dark region interpreted as the impact site are confirmed as real objects – they are not likely to be imaging ‘noise' – and therefore are most likely fragments of Schiaparelli.
Figure 47: Composite of the ExoMars Schiaparelli module elements seen by NASA's HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) on MRO on Nov. 1, 2016. Both the main impact site (top) and the region with the parachute and rear heatshield (bottom left) are now captured in the central portion of the HiRISE imaging swath that is imaged through three different filters, enabling a color image to be constructed. The front heatshield (bottom right) lies outside the central color imaging swath (image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)
Legend to Figure 47: The colors have been graded according to the specific region to best reveal the contrast of features against the martian background. These images are in raw image geometry rather than map-projected, and north is about 7º west of straight up.
• October 27, 2016: Spacecraft operations manager Peter Schmitz gives the thumbs up in the main control room at ESA's control center in Darmstadt, Germany, on 19 October 2016, shortly after the ExoMars TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) arrived at the Red Planet. The spacecraft fired its main engine for 139 minutes to slow it down to be captured by Mars, entering an elliptical 101,000 x 3691 km orbit (with respect to the center of mass of the planet). It is in excellent health and will start making observations to calibrate its science instruments during two circuits in November 2016. 52)
• October 27, 2016: The most powerful telescope orbiting Mars is providing new details of the scene near the Martian equator where Europe's Schiaparelli test lander hit the surface last week. 53)
- The October 25, 2016, image (Figure 48) shows the area where the ESA's Schiaparelli test lander reached the surface of Mars, with magnified insets of three sites where components of the spacecraft hit the ground. It is the first view of the site from the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter taken after the Oct. 19, 2016, landing event. 54)
- This HiRISE observation adds information to what was learned from observation of the same area on Oct. 20 by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's Context Camera (CTX). Of these two cameras, CTX covers more area and HiRISE shows more detail. A portion of the HiRISE field of view also provides color information. The impact scene was not within that portion for the Oct. 25 observation, but an observation with different pointing to add color and stereo information is planned.
- This Oct. 25 observation shows three locations where hardware reached the ground, all within about 1.5 km of each other, as expected. The annotated version includes insets with six-fold enlargement of each of those three areas. Brightness is adjusted separately for each inset to best show the details of that part of the scene. North is about 7 degrees counterclockwise from straight up. The scale bars are in meters.
- At lower left is the parachute, adjacent to the back shell, which was its attachment point on the spacecraft. The parachute is much brighter than the Martian surface in this region. The smaller circular feature just south of the bright parachute is about the same size and shape as the back shell (diameter of 2.4 m).
- At upper right are several bright features surrounded by dark radial impact patterns, located about where the heat shield was expected to impact. The bright spots may be part of the heat shield, such as insulation material, or gleaming reflections of the afternoon sunlight.
- According to the ExoMars project, which received data from the spacecraft during its descent through the atmosphere, the heat shield separated as planned, the parachute deployed as planned but was released (with back shell) prematurely, and the lander hit the ground at a velocity of more than than 300 km/hr.
- At mid-upper left are markings left by the lander's impact. The dark, approximately circular feature is about (2.4 m in diameter, about the size of a shallow crater expected from impact into dry soil of an object with the lander's mass — about 300 kg — and calculated velocity. The resulting crater is estimated to be about half a meter deep. This first HiRISE observation does not show topography indicating the presence of a crater. Stereo information from combining this observation with a future one may provide a way to check. Surrounding the dark spot are dark radial patterns expected from an impact event. The dark curving line to the northeast of the dark spot is unusual for a typical impact event and not yet explained. Surrounding the dark spot are several relatively bright pixels or clusters of pixels. They could be image noise or real features, perhaps fragments of the lander. A later image is expected to confirm whether these spots are image noise or actual surface features.
Figure 48: This Oct. 25, 2016, annotated image from the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the area where the Europe's Schiaparelli test lander struck Mars, with magnified insets of three sites where spacecraft components hit the ground. It adds detail not seen in earlier imaging of the site (image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)
• October 25, 2016: Photos of a huge circle of churned-up Martian soil leave few doubts: theESA probe Schiaparelli that was supposed to test landing technology on Mars crashed into the red planet instead, and may have exploded on impact. 55)
Figure 49: Before-and-after images taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of NASA seem to show the impact of the Schiaparelli lander (fuzzy dark patch, 15 m x 40 m) and its parachute (bright white spot) on Mars (image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona) 56)
- The events of 19 October may be painful for ESA scientists to recall, but they will now have to relive them over and over again in computer simulations. The lander, called Schiaparelli, was part of ESA's ExoMars mission, which is being conducted jointly with the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos. It was a prelude to a planned 2020 mission, when researchers aim to land a much larger scientific station and rover on Mars, which will drill up to 2-meters down to look for signs of ancient life in the planet's soil. Figuring out Schiaparelli's faults and rectifying them is a priority, says Jorge Vago, project scientist for ExoMars. "That's super important. I think it's on everybody's mind."
- Schiaparelli sent data to its mother ship during its descent. Preliminary analysis suggests that the lander began the maneuver flawlessly, braking against the planet's atmosphere and deploying its parachute. But at 4 minutes and 41 seconds into an almost 6-minute fall, something went wrong. The lander's heat shield and parachute ejected ahead of time, says Vago. Then thrusters, designed to decelerate the craft for 30 seconds until it was meters off the ground, engaged for only around 3 seconds before they were commanded to switch off, because the lander's computer thought it was on the ground.
- The lander even switched on its suite of instruments, ready to record Mars's weather and electrical field, although they did not collect data. "My guess is that at that point we were still too high. And the most likely scenario is that, from then, we just dropped to the surface," says Vago.
- The craft probably fell from a height of between 2 and 4 km before slamming into the ground at more than 300 km/hr, according to estimates based on images of Schiaparelli's likely crash site, taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on 20 October.
- The most likely culprit is a flaw in the craft's software or a problem in merging the data coming from different sensors, which may have led the craft to believe it was lower in altitude than it really was, says Andrea Accomazzo, ESA's head of solar and planetary missions. Accomazzo says that this is a hunch; he is reluctant to diagnose the fault before a full post-mortem has been carried out. But if he is right, that is both bad and good news.
- European-designed computing, software and sensors are among the elements of the lander that are to be reused on the ExoMars 2020 landing system, which, unlike Schiaparelli, will involve a mixture of European and Russian technology. But software glitches should be easier to fix than a fundamental problem with the landing hardware, which ESA scientists say seems to have passed its test with flying colors. "If we have a serious technological issue, then it's different, then we have to re-evaluate carefully. But I don't expect it to be the case," says Accomazzo.
- The ExoMars team will try to replicate the mistake using a virtual landing system designed to simulate the lander's hardware and software, says Vago, to make sure that scientists understand and can deal with the issue before redesigning any aspects of ExoMars 2020.
- ESA is keen to stress that overall, the ExoMars mission can be seen as a triumph: Schiaparelli sent back test data from the majority of its descent, and its sister craft — the Trace Gas Orbiter — successfully maneuvered into Martian orbit. The orbiter is the more scientifically valuable of the two halves of the mission: from December 2017, it will study Mars's atmosphere, aiming to find evidence for possible biological or geological sources of methane gas. It will also be a communications relay for the 2020 rover.
• October 24, 2016: Scientists and engineers on the ExoMars project had their hearts in their mouths as the ExoMars mission reached the red planet, with the Schiaparelli probe going missing in action at the end of its descent just as the TGO mothership swept into a perfectly timed orbit. 57)
- The plight of Schiaparelli remains unclear. It is certainly on the Martian surface, but may well have hit the red dust much harder then engineers had planned, and nothing has been heard from it since. Data relayed during the lander's descent shows the initial high-speed entry to the Martian atmosphere went well, with the heatshield slowing the craft and the parachute deploying. However once the back heat shield and parachute were ejected the flow of events did not go to plan.
• October 20, 2016: The TGO of ESA's ExoMars 2016 mission has successfully performed the long, 139-minute burn required for Mars capture and has entered an elliptical orbit around the Red Plane; however, contact has not yet been confirmed with the mission's test lander Schiaparelli from the surface of the planet. 58)
- TGO's Mars orbit Insertion burn lasted from 13:05 to 15:24 UTC on October 19th, reducing the spacecraft's speed and direction by more than 1.5 km/s. The TGO is now on the planned orbit around Mars. European Space Agency teams at ESOC (European Space Operations Center) in Darmstadt, Germany, continue to monitor the good health of their second orbiter around Mars, which joins the 13-year old Mars Express.
- The ESOC teams are trying to confirm contact with the Entry, Descent & Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), Schiaparelli, which entered the Martian atmosphere some 107 minutes after the TGO's maneuver for orbit insertion. Schiaparelli was programmed to autonomously perform an automated landing sequence, with parachute deployment and front heat shield release between 11 and 7 km, followed by a retrorocket braking starting at 1100 meters from the ground and a final fall from a height of 2 meters protected by a crushable structure.
• October 12, 2016: As the ExoMars Schiaparelli module descends onto Mars on 19 October it will capture 15 images of the approaching surface. Scientists have simulated the view we can expect to see from the descent camera. - Schiaparelli will separate from its mothership, the TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter), on 16 October, with some six million km still to travel before entering the atmosphere of Mars at 14:42 GMT three days later. Its descent will take just under six minutes, using a heatshield, parachute, thrusters and a crushable structure for the landing. 59)
- Schiaparelli is primarily a technology demonstrator to test entry, descent and landing technologies for future missions and is therefore designed to operate for only Schiaparelli is primarily a technology demonstrator to test entry, descent and landing technologies for future missions and is therefore designed to operate only for a few days.
- The small surface science package will take readings of the atmosphere, but there is no scientific camera like those found on other landers or rovers – including the ExoMars rover that is planned for launch in 2020. - The lander does, however, carry ESA's small, 0.6 kg technical camera, a refurbished spare flight model of the Visual Monitoring Camera flown on ESA's Herschel/Planck spacecraft to image the separation of the two craft after their joint launch.
• July28, 2016: Following a lengthy firing of its powerful engine this morning, ESA's ExoMars TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter )is on track to arrive at the Red Planet in October. ExoMars made its first critical maneuver since its 14 March launch this morning, firing its engine for 52 minutes to help it intercept Mars on 19 October, 2016. 60)
- The deep-space firing began automatically at 09:30 GMT, after commands to orient itself and ignite the 424 N main engine were uploaded on July 26. The maneuver was closely monitored by ESA's mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, who followed the craft's signals via the highly sensitive radio dish at New Norcia, Australia. The firing was planned well in advance, and its duration was carefully calculated to minimize fuel consumption for the overall set of cruise and Mars capture maneuvers. These include a second burn on 11 August and smaller 'trim' maneuvers on 19 September and 14 October.
- Teams have been using the relatively quiet cruise phase to test spacecraft systems, including the Schiaparelli lander and the radio unit that will be used to relay data from rovers on Mars, and to check TGO's four science instruments.
- Over the following months, TGO will shave the outer reaches of the atmosphere to lower its orbit. Its final circular orbit at about 400 km altitude will allow it to begin its five-year scientific mission in December 2017.
Figure 50: Artist's impression of the ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter with the entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, Schiaparelli, attached (image credit: ESA/ATG medialab)
• June 22, 2016: With just over half of the journey to Mars completed, the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing module has carried out its mid-cruise checkout. DREAMS and DECA have called home to report that they are in good health. The Schiaparelli module, launched with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter on 14 March, is a demonstrator to test key technologies in preparation for ESA's contributions to subsequent missions to Mars. 61)
- During the mid-cruise checkout of DREAMS that was run on 16 and 17 June, the sensors measured the environmental conditions inside the ExoMars entry descent and landing module, both in the warm compartment where the electronics are housed and in the central area of the module where the sensors are situated.
- The measurements are all perfectly in line with what is expected, according to DREAMS Principal Investigator, Francesca Esposito, from INAF - Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy. "During this check-out we have looked at how the DREAMS sensors are responding inside the module as well as making some science measurements," she explains. "These tests are used to monitor the health of the sensors and to compare their behavior in space with that in the laboratory. We also use these tests to set the zero point for some of our sensors – this is important for when we are operating on Mars because we need to be sure that our sensors are all well calibrated."
- The small descent camera, DECA, was also tested during this mid-cruise checkout. DECA, which is the flight spare of the Herschel visual monitoring camera, will take 15 images at 1.5 s intervals shortly after the front shield of Schiaparelli has been jettisoned, from an altitude of a few kilometers.
- During these recent tests DE CA cycled through its image acquisition sequence to obtain 15 pictures of the dark interior of the module. These are used to check the health of the camera and to calibrate it. "DECA operates autonomously while taking the 15 images during descent," explains Detlef Koschny, Team Leader of DECA, from ESA's Scientific Support Office at ESTEC . "These checkout tests are very important as they allow us to monitor the status of the camera during flight and to calibrate it so that we can make the most of the 15 images that we will get."
- In addition to DREAMS and DECA, Schiaparelli carries the COMARS+ package to characterize the heat shield response during descent; supports an investigation into atmospheric studies with AMELIA, using engineering sensors; and carries a retroreflector, called INRRI.
• June 16, 2016: ExoMars captured its first images of Mars this week as part of its preparations for arriving at the Red Planet in October. The ExoMars TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) acquired its first image of Mars on 13 June 2016 as part of its extensive instrument commissioning en route to the Red Planet. The line-of-sight distance to Mars on 13 June was 41 million km, giving an image resolution of 460 km/pixel. The planet is roughly 34 arcseconds in diameter at this distance. The Tharsis region of Mars, home to the planet's largest volcanoes, faces the spacecraft in this view. 62)
Figure 51: First picture of Mars acquired on June 13, 2016 by the TGO from about 41 million km away (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE)
• May 23, 2016: The ExoMars spacecraft, built by TAS-I (Thales Alenia Space-Italy) as prime contractor for ESA (European Space Agency ) has successfully completed its IOCR (In-Orbit Commissioning Review). 63)
- TAS has analyzed the results of the LEOP (Launch and Early Orbit Phase) and commissioning operations to draw up a report submitted to ESA. The report confirms the full functionality of the spacecraft's two constituent modules: EDM (Entry and Descent Module) and TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter). Tests on the TGO during the LEOP phase confirmed that the satellite's temperatures are within operational limits; the propulsion subsystem (Reaction Control System RCS) is operating as expected and energy consumption is nominal. The electrical parameters (voltage and current) remain stable in relation to the results of tests on Earth.
• April 14, 2016: The ESA–Roscosmos ExoMars spacecraft TGO and Schiaparelli are in excellent health following launch last month, with the orbiter sending back its first test image of a starry view taken en route to the Red Planet. In the weeks following liftoff on 14 March, mission operators and scientists have been intensively checking the TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) and the Schiaparelli entry, descent, and landing demonstrator to ensure they will be ready for Mars in October. 64)
- TGO's control, navigation and communication systems have been set up, the 2.2 m diameter high-gain dish is already providing a 2 Mbit/s link with Earth, and the science instruments have undergone initial checks.
- Once orbiting Mars, TGO will embark on a mission to measure the abundance and distribution of rare gases in the atmosphere with its sophisticated sensors. Of particular interest is methane, which could point to active geological or biological processes on the planet.
- "All systems have been activated and checked out, including power, communications, startrackers, guidance and navigation, all payloads and Schiaparelli, while the flight control team have become more comfortable operating this new and sophisticated spacecraft," says Peter Schmitz, ESA's Spacecraft Operations Manager.
- On 7 April, TGO's high-resolution camera was switched on for the first time, acquiring its first images of space.
Figure 52: The image was taken by the CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System), and points to a randomly selected portion of the sky close to the southern celestial pole (image credit: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS)
Legend to Figure 52: The picture shows the result of taking one CaSSIS frame, turning the camera's rotation mechanism, and then taking another. By subtracting the two frames, a series of bright and dark spots are seen, all equally offset from each other, demonstrating that these are positive and negative images of the same stars. The FOV (Field of View) is 0.2º in the horizontal direction, and is a subset of a larger image, extracted for this purpose to show the stars at a reasonable size. The arrows indicate the offset star positions. 65)
In operation at Mars, about 400 km above the planet, CaSSIS will sweep out a swath as TGO approaches it, then turn the rotation mechanism by 180º and image the same swath as it recedes. By doing so, CaSSIS will make stereo images of the surface.
• March 23, 2016: After the critical first few days in space, TGO is performing flawlessly. Over the next two weeks the ExoMars team will continue to check and commission its systems, including the power, communications, star trackers, and the guidance and navigation system. Schiaparelli, which is hitching a ride to Mars with TGO, will also be thoroughly checked in the coming weeks. 66)
- On March 17, the mission control team had declared the LEOP (Launch and Early Orbit Phase) complete.
- In June, the science control center at ESAC (European Space Astronomy Center) near Madrid, Spain, will start working with the instrument teams at their various institutes, and the Roscosmos science operations center, to perform a mid-cruise checkout of TGO's instruments.
•Some 12 hours after launch, and after a very precise orbital delivery from the Russian Proton–Breeze rocket, ground stations in Africa, Spain and Australia began receiving the spacecraft's initial signals, confirming that TGO was alive and well, and had started its automatic sequence, switching itself on, orienting its antenna towards Earth and deploying the solar wings.
• The Breeze-M upper stage, with ExoMars attached, then completed a series of four burns before the spacecraft was released at 20:13 GMT.
• Following separation of Proton's first and second stages, the payload fairing was released. The third stage separated nearly 10 minutes after liftoff.
Figure 53: Artists rendition of the ExoMars spacecraft separation from the Briz (Breeze) fourth stage (image credit: ESA)
Table 5: Planned ExoMars 2016 mission phases overview 67)