ExoMars Mission: Thales Alenia Space’s key technologies tested for Europe’s planned 2020 landing on the Red Planet
Following a long, interplanetary voyage of about 500 million kilometres, the descent module separated from the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) on 16th October and after a 3-day coasting operation, it reached the limit of the Martian atmosphere, the so-called Entry Interface Point situated at approximately 122 km from the surface of the planet, so as to commence its free fall onto Mars at a speed of about 21,000 Km/h.
Schiaparelli successfully completed most of the foreseen stages of the long-awaited and critical 6-minute descent into the Martian atmosphere, such as the deceleration through the atmosphere, the opening of the parachute and the heat shield. The retrorockets were briefly fired up, however it appears that they may have shut off earlier than anticipated, at a height that still has to be specified. This is the result of the partial, ongoing analyses of the data that Schiaparelli sent to the mother ship during the descent stage.
At the same time, the orbiter into an elliptical orbit around Mars with an inclination of 7.4° and a period of four days. It will maintain this orbit until January 4, 2017, when the inclination will increase to 74°, with each revolution taking one day. The orbiter will start to gradually circularize its orbit in March 2017 using aero-braking, its solar panels will be used to slow it down through friction with the Martian atmosphere.
The goal of the ExoMars orbiter is to analyze atmospheric trace gases to determine their concentration and distribution. In particular, methane is considered particularly interesting. If any methane is detected, scientists will try to determine if the methane is of biological or geological origin.
“Even if we are still awaiting to know the final results of the data, at the same time, we are proud to have been able to put our know-how at the disposal of Europe in order to test the key technologies for the landing on the Red Planet – stated Jean Loïc Galle, Chief Executive Officer of Thales Alenia Space – “We are at the first fundamental stage of an extraordinary international programme that is the result of the co-operation between agencies and industry” – he added – we have a module orbiting around Mars which is both a useful and valuable tool for the future 2020 ExoMars Mission that intends to put a European rover on Mars.”
The ExoMars 2016 mission involves a spacecraft comprising an orbital module, the TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter), carrying scientific instruments and a camera that were manufactured and integrated at Thales Alenia Space’s Cannes plant in France, plus an Entry, descent and landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), equipped with scientific instruments, a weather station, a laser retro-reflector and a camera, built by Thales Alenia Space’s Turin plant in Italy.
Leonardo-Finmeccanica also contributed to the program by supplying the solar arrays and the star sensors for the orbital module, and the optronic (electro-optical) core of the CASSIS observation instrument.
About Thales Alenia Space
Thales Alenia Space brings over 40 years of experience to the design, integration, testing and operation of innovative space systems for telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation, environmental management, exploration, science and orbital infrastructures. A joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo-Finmeccanica (33%), Thales Alenia Space also teams up with Telespazio to form the parent companies’ “Space Alliance”, which offers a complete range of services and solutions. Thales Alenia Space has built up unrivaled expertise in dual (civil-military) missions, constellations, flexible high-throughput payloads, altimetry, meteorology, and high-resolution radar and optical observation, as well as space exploration. The company capitalizes on its strong legacy, while also making innovation a key to its strategy. By offering a continuous stream of new products and expanding its global footprint, Thales Alenia Space has established its leadership in today’s fast-evolving space sector. Thales Alenia Space posted consolidated revenues exceeding 2.1 billion euros in 2015 and has 7,500 employees in nine countries. www.thalesaleniaspace.com
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