Mars: European orbiter takes its first close-up snaps

Mars Trace Gas Orbiter

Europe and Russia’s ExoMars mission hasn’t had a trouble-free journey to the Red Planet, after the Schiaparelli lander smashed into the planet. Still, the Trace Gas Orbiter, forming part of the mission, has been working just fine, orbiting Mars and gathering loads of information.

Now, the European Space Agency has released an image of Mars taken by the orbiter (featured image), giving us a detailed look at the planet’s surface.

The ESA noted that the picture was taken near the Mars equator, showing a large unnamed crater north of a crater called Da Vinci.

“A smaller, 1.4 km-diameter crater is seen in the rim along the left hand side of the image. The image scale is 7.2 m/pixel,” the space agency continued.

“The image was taken on 22 November 2016 and is one of the first acquired by the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) onboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. The image was taken as part of an eight-day campaign to test the science instruments for the first time since arriving at the Red Planet on 19 October,” it added.

The Trace Gas Orbiter is performing well around Mars, which is more than can be said for the ill-fated lander

The ExoMars mission took off in March 2016, with the Trace Gas Orbiter being equipped to detect (surprise) trace gases in the Martian atmosphere. The Schiaparelli lander was intended to be a technology demonstrator, while also being equipped with instruments to survey the environment. Unfortunately, it crashed into the planet shortly after separating from the orbiter.

Scientists have nevertheless made progress in determining the cause of the lander’s failure, saying that a spot of erroneous information was to blame for an otherwise flawless entry procedure. The incorrect information resulted in the lander’s system thinking it was below ground level.

“This in turn successively triggered a premature release of the parachute and the backshell, a brief firing of the braking thrusters and finally activation of the on-ground systems as if Schiaparelli had already landed. In reality, the vehicle was still at an altitude of around 3.7 km,” the agency explained last week.

The ESA and Russia are planning a second ExoMars mission, scheduled for lift-off in 2020. The upcoming mission will include a more advanced rover, capable of drilling into the Martian rock and conducting more advanced tests.



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