News

Press release

ExoMars landing: No signal from Schiaparelli, but mission’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Sofradir’s IR detectors are intact

ExoMars landing: No signal from Schiaparelli, but mission’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Sofradir’s IR detectors are intact

While the touchdown of the ESA’s Schiaparelli Mars lander may not have gone according to plan, the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) atmosphere sniffer and Sofradir’s IR detectors in integrated in two scientific instruments are operational.

ExoMars’ mission is to address unsolved mysteries of the planet's atmosphere that could indicate present-day geological – or even biological – activity, and to demonstrate the landing technologies needed for future missions to Mars.

According to ESA, communications between space operations and the module stopped minutes before the expected touchdown on Mars’ surface on October 19th. Essential data from the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander sent to its mothership Trace Gas Orbiter during the module's descent to the Red Planet's surface on has been downlinked to Earth and is currently being analyzed by experts.

“We have an impressive orbiter around Mars ready for science and for relay support for the ExoMars rover mission in 2020," says Jan Wörner, ESA's Director General. "Schiaparelli's primary role was to test European landing technologies. Recording the data during the descent was part of that, and it is important we can learn what happened, in order to prepare for the future."

Sofradir IR detectors in orbit and operational

Sofradir’s IR detectors are deployed in two of four suites of scientific instruments onboard the TGO: the NOMAD instrument (Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery) and the ACS instrument (Atmospheric Chemistry Suite). Each is equipped with spectrometers. Over the next 12 months, NOMAD will take a detailed inventory of Mars’ atmospheric trace gases by analyzing the light reflected by the atmosphere and by solar occultation. ACS will analyze the chemistry and structure of Mars’ atmosphere, in particular to detect methane, which could be evidence of life on mars.

ESA reports state that the ExoMars TGO orbiter is currently on a 101 000 km × 3691 km orbit (with respect to the center of the planet) with a period of 4.2 days, well within the planned initial orbit. The spacecraft is working very well and will take science calibration data during two orbits in November 2016.

It will then be ready for the planned aerobraking maneuvers starting in March 2017 and continuing for most of the year, bringing it into a 400-km altitude circular orbit around Mars.

The TGO will then begin its primary science mission to study the atmosphere of Mars in search of possible indications of life below the surface. The scientific mission is expected to begin in March 2018 and will run for almost two years. The Trace Gas Orbiter will also be used to relay data for the 2020 rover mission of the ExoMars program until the end of 2022.

Technical abstracts