2016 has been an eventful and promising year for ESA’s ExoMars mission. After successfully placing the Trace Gas Orbiter into Mars’ orbit on 19 October, the orbiter has sent back its first images, tested its instruments and performed in orbit calibration measurements and health checks.
The Schiaparelli lander collected almost all of its expected data before its unexpected crash landing on the Martian surface. Crucial lessons will be learnt from this for the recently approved 2020 ExoMars mission, which will put Europe’s first rover on Mars.
The precise cause of the lander loss is still being investigated but preliminary technical investigations have found that the atmospheric entry and slowing down in the early phases went exactly as planned.
In all, since its launch in March 2016, the ExoMars mission has been a mixture of successes and one unexpected set back. Looking ahead, the Trace Gas Orbiter will start aerobraking in March 2017 to gradually slow down over the following months. By the end of 2017, the orbiter will be in a lower, near circular orbit of 400 kms and ExoMars’ primary science mission can begin.