September 2, 2016

ExoMars 2016: Perfecting the Trajectory!

On 19 October, the landing demonstrator known as ExoMars Schiaparelli will touch down on Mars after detaching itself from the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). Its job is to validate new technologies and to demonstrate Europe’s ability to land on Mars, as well as to take scientific measurements. The orbiter’s trajectory has just been adjusted to ensure the success of the two events scheduled for 19 October—the landing of Schiaparelli in the Meridiani Planum region, and TGO’s insertion into orbit.

In other words, it’s all systems go! After separating from TGO on 16 October, Schiaparelli will land in the Méridiani Planum region on 19 October. Schiaparelli is equipped with a vast amount of technical sensors for gathering data during its atmospheric reentry, parachute descent and landing. It will also spend several days transmitting data from a small scientific payload dedicated to atmospheric studies.

The main manoeuvre, to adjust TGO’s trajectory so that it intercepts that of Mars, was performed late July. This was followed by a more delicate manoeuvre mid-August to prepare for the final precise trajectory adjustments due to take place in September and October

a 45 kg weight during a gym session and it operated for 52 min [...]

As Silvia Sangiorgi, ESA’s Deputy Spacecraft Operations Manager, explains:
“The relevant engine supplies a force equivalent to that needed to lift a 45 kg weight during a gym session and it operated for 52 min, representing a significant impulse.”

An ultra-precise navigation technique is used to locate the orbiter to within 1,000 m, at a distance from Earth of 150 million km. Its operators hope to use the data they’ve accumulated to reach accuracy levels close to 150 m at 150 million km.

So, see you from 16 October onwards for the next episode of the ExoMars 2016 adventure!



ExoMars is a Mars exploration programme with both technological and scientific objectives. A cooperation between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia’s Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities, it includes the ExoMars 2016 and ExoMars 2020 missions. Since its launch on 14 March, ExoMars 2016 has covered nearly half of the 500 million km to the red planet. ExoMars 2020 will be launched late July/early August 2020.
CNES is supporting ESA’s ExoMars programme in the form of both finance (approximately 15%) and technical input. 

useful links

The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli (Baikonur, February 2016)
Crédit ESA

The Schiaparelli satellite (Baikonur, February 2016)
Crédit ESA

The ExoMars mission control centre at ESOC (Darmstadt)
Crédit ESA

Next stages of the mission:

  • 16 October:
  • Separation of TGO and Schiaparelli
  • 17 October: Final trajectory corrections and preparation for orbit insertion
  • 19 October: Ignition of the main engine for TGO’s insertion into a highly elliptical, four-day Martian orbit, and the landing of Schiaparelli
  • January: Start of aerobraking manoeuvres to bring TGO into a circular, one-day Martian orbit at an altitude of 400 km
  • 17 January 2017: TGO manoeuvre to reach an orbit inclination of 74°
  • November 2017: Entry into circular orbit to carry out atmospheric observations and data collection 
  • December 2017 - December 2019: TGO to conduct scientific research mission of the Martian atmosphere.

From December 2017, TGO will also be able to relay to Earth data from NASA rovers operating on the surface of Mars, before taking on the ExoMars 2020 rover on its arrival in April 2021.

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