ExoMars Spacecraft Enters Orbit; Fate of Lander Unknown

Trace Gas Orbiter, Schiaparelli and the ExoMars rover at Mars. (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)
Trace Gas Orbiter, Schiaparelli and the ExoMars rover at Mars. (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

ESA has placed its ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter into orbit around the Red Planet. However, the fate of the Schiaparelli lander lander remains unknown. No signal has been received yet.

18:53 CEST: The ExoMars/TGO spacecraft completed its critical orbit-insertion manoeuvre at Mars today and its signals were received by ground stations at 18:34 CEST, just as expected. The timely re-acquisition indicates the engine burn went as planned, and mission controllers are waiting for a detailed assessment from the flight dynamics specialists at ESOC to confirm it.

Teams monitoring the Schiaparelli lander continue waiting for indication of the lander’s progress. Engineers are waiting for the next signal receipt slot, which will be provided by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will overfly the Schiaparelli landing site between about 18:49 and 19:03 CEST, and downlink any received signals at around 20:00 CEST.

18:35 CEST: ACQUISITION OF SIGNAL from the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter after it emerged from behind Mars.

17:28 CEST: The orbit insertion manoeuvre of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter should have ended but the spacecraft is now behind Mars on the line of sight from Earth. Acquisition of signal is expected when TGO emerges from behind Mars after 18:32 CEST.

17:12 CEST: End of planned Schiaparelli transmission. Initial signals were received via the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) as Schiaparelli descended to the surface of Mars, but no signal indicating touchdown yet. This is not unexpected due to the very faint nature of the signal received at GMRT. A clearer assessment of the situation will come when ESA’s Mars Express will have relayed the recording of Schiaparelli’s entry, descent and landing.

16:50 CEST: Signals from Mars take 9 minutes 47 seconds to reach Earth today, so the teams are waiting for the first indications that the entry, descent and landing events actually happened at Mars. It may take some hours to get official confirmation that Schiaparelli has landed on the Red Planet. Stay tuned.

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