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ExoMars Fires Up Engine To Move Closer to the Red Planet

Aug 05, 2016 04:07 AM EDT
ExoMars spacecraft makes its first critical maneuver, fine-tuning its path towards Mars.
(Photo : GooKingSword / Pixabay)

Europe's Mars rover makes its first deep-space maneuver since its launch in March.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) ExoMars spacecraft fired up its main engine for 52 minutes on July 28 to adjust the flight trajectory ahead of its planned arrival at Mars, ESA officials said.

According to ESA representatives, the goal of the firing is to enable the spacecraft to intercept Mars and deliver the Schiaparelli lander to the Red Planet on October 19.

"The engine provides about the same force as that needed to lift a 45 kg weight in a fitness studio, and it ran for about 52 minutes, so that's quite a significant push," Silvia Sangiorgi, deputy spacecraft operations manager, said in a press release.

The firing began at 9:30 GMT, with close monitoring by ESA's mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, which followed the spacecraft's signals via the radio dish in Australia.

To calculate the firing, ESA used an ultra-precise navigation technique, which pinpoints the spacecraft's position within 1,000 meters at a distance of 150 million kilometers from Eath.

The maneuver came after test engine burns on July 18 and July 21. According to ESA, the plan calls for three more engine firings en route to Mars: a second burn on Aug. 11 and smaller maneuvers on Sept. 19 and Oct. 14.

The ExoMars program is led by ESA in partnership with Russian federal space agency Roscosmos. The spacecraft launched from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan atop a Proton-M carrier rocket on March 14, and has traveled half way of its 500-million-kilometer journey, ESA said.

The spacecraft consists of the Schiaparelli landing demonstrator module and the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). Upon arrival, Schiaparelli will test the technology needed for the landing of the ExoMars rover on Mars, which is slated to launch in 2020, and TGO will analyze rare gases in Mars' atmosphere, especially methane, which could indicate possible signs of life in the Red Planet.

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