ExoMars 2016 phones home on way to Mars
ESA has confirmed that the ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars 2016 mission is alive and well and on its way to the Red Planet. The news comes courtesy of mission control in Darmstadt, which received telemetry signals from the spacecraft via the Malindi ground tracking station in Kenya at 21:29 GMT today, 12 hours after liftoff from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
According to ESA, the launch and orbit insertion maneuvers went off without a hitch as the three-stage Proton M rocket carrying the unmanned probe executed a series of four burns before releasing the craft at 20:13 GMT. Telemetry confirms that solar panels have deployed, the spacecraft is healthy, and is on its correct trajectory, which will see it arrive in Mars orbit in October.
Consisting of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mothership and the Schiaparelli entry, descent, and landing demonstrator module, the ExoMars 2016 mission is tasked with looking for evidence of life on Mars. Once on station, the TGO will look for traces of methane in the Martian atmosphere with an eye on learning more about the mechanism that produces it and to determine if this is geological, chemical, or biological. It will also send back images of the Martian surface and search for subsurface ice deposits.
Meanwhile, the Schiaparelli module's brief career will be to take readings of the atmosphere during its descent to the surface. Though it's not a lander, it will test landing radar, navigational cameras, and other instruments that will be used for the ExoMars 2018 lander mission. If it survives the descent, the probe will not be able to send back pictures from the surface, but it will continue to send back telemetry for as long as its batteries hold out.