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ExoMars Orbiter to Begin Scientific Observations this Month

Nov 10, 2016 04:40 AM EST
ExoMars 2016 Launch
The European Space Agency (ESA) may have lost its Schiaparelli Mars lander during its descent on the Red Planet, but its mothership, the Trace Gas Orbiter, is still orbiting Mars and will begin conducting science observations soon.
(Photo : David Ducros/ESA via Getty Images)

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) is set to begin initial observations and calibrations this November.

"20-28 November the activation of scientific instruments on board the machine Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) of the ExoMars 2016 mission will be carried out," the Russian Space Research Institute (IKI) of the Russian Academy of Sciences said on its website on Monday. "Four of the devices -- including two Russian -- will carry out the first calibrations and measurements on the highly elliptical orbit around the planet."

TGO is equipped with four different science instruments: the Atmospheric Chemistry Suite (ACS), Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS), the Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector (FREND) and the Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery (NOMAD).

The 2016 ExoMars TGO is the first in a series of Mars missions to be undertaken jointly by the Russian space agency Roscosmos and the European Space Agency (ESA). The goal of the mission is to gain a better understanding of methane and other atmospheric gases on the Red Planet, which could be evidence for possible biological or geological activity on the planet.

The orbiter launched carrying the Schiaparelli landing demonstrator module on March 14 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard the Russian Proton rocket.

The Schiaparelli lander detached successfully from the orbiter but crash-landed near its intended landing site on Oct. 19. Minutes before the lander's expected touchdown on Mars' Meridiani Planum region, mission controllers lost contact with it. Officials later found that the disc-shaped 577-kg probe crashed on the planet and was destroyed when its thrusters stopped firing too soon during its descent.

Despite Schiaparelli's ill-fated landing, TGO is looking well and healthy and is currently well within the planned initial orbit. The orbiter will then be ready for the planned maneuver in March 2017 that will bring it into a 400-km altitude circular orbit around Mars.

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