ESA (European Space Agency) ExoMars Mission left our planet on March 14, 2016. Exo refers to Exobiology, the umbrella principle of a joint ESA and Russian mission to search for methane and other trace atmospheric Mars gases that might be signatures of biological life. Designed with several objectives, ExoMars arrived mid October 2016 as primary craft TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) and Mars lander Schiaparelli.
Schiaparelli did her best, but not everything goes according to plan. Mission control’s best guess being Schiaparelli thrusters malfunctioned, pounding the lander to full fuel tank Martian oblivion at a violent 300 Km an hour.
Unfazed by Schiaparelli’s demise, TGO dutifully marches a four day orbital ellipse of Mars. A carefully prescribed stretched loop ranging in altitude from 300 to 96,000 Km. Beginning March 2017, mission control will order TGO to repeatedly dip into the upper atmosphere, depleting orbital energy and shrinking the ellipse. Objective – a near perfect circular orbit at 400 Km by March, 2018.
Meanwhile CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) aboard TGO returned mesmerizing first images of Mars.
A feature called Arsia-Chasmata, on the blanks of a martian volcano Arsia Mons. Width of this image is about 15 miles (25 km). Image via ESA/ Roscosmos/ EsoMars/ CaSSIS/ UniBE.