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ExoMars: ESA & Russia’s lander to touch down Wednesday

Mars ESA flickr exomars

Fresh from the Rosetta mission, the European Space Agency has a big day on 19 October, when it will be dropping its ExoMars lander on Mars in partnership with Russia.

The ExoMars mission, launched in March 2016 and consisting of the Schiaparelli lander and the Trace Gas Orbiter, is already in the Martian neighbourhood. The two spacecraft have also separated on 16 October, ahead of Schiaparelli’s touchdown.

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The Schiaparelli lander isn’t meant to be active on the surface for long though, being a tech demonstrator with a battery life of up to eight days. However, it will endure a tough entry, as its heat shield will be exposed to temperatures of up to 1750 degrees Celsius, hitting the Martian atmosphere at 21 000km/h.

According to the ESA, drag will be a big part in reducing the lander’s speed, but a parachute and thrusters will also help matters in a big way. An aluminium honeycomb “bed” will provide a crushable structure to soften the landing as well.

In a lovely touch, the lander will also be taking photos on the way down, providing us with a great view of the action.

The orbiter isn’t going to have an easy time either, as it’ll be conducting a long orbit insertion burn to, well… insert itself… into… orbit…

The orbiter will engage its engines for roughly 139 minutes, with the actual boost time being refined all the time, according to the ESA.

The Trace Gas Orbiter will also undertake some intense manoeuvres as part of the ExoMars mission

“Trace Gas Orbiter has another trick up its sleeve — sensitive accelerometers will measure by how much the orbiter is decelerating and when exactly the right amount of braking force has been generated, it will shut the engine down. This approach allows the spacecraft to autonomously compensate for any over or under performance of the engine,” the space agency explained.

Nevertheless, if these instruments fail, the space agency has programmed the orbiter to automatically turn off its engines, no matter what, after 147 minutes.

The orbital insertion manoeuvre is set to kick off at 3.04pm (SAST/CEST) on 19 October, while the Schiaparelli lander is set to enter the Martian atmosphere at 4:42pm (SAST/CEST).

Featured image: ESA via Flickr

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