Schiaparelli: the ExoMars Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module
Schiaparelli, the European Perspective
One of the core scientific goals of any mission to Mars is the search for evidence of life. The best approach is to investigate the surface where the evidence may lie.
The key element for accessing the surface of Mars and one of the greatest challenges in space exploration is the successful execution of the entry, descent and landing sequence.
This is one of the reasons why since the late 1960s there have been so many missions attempting to land on the surface of Mars, some being successful, many others ill-fated.
Schiaparelli - an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module - is a technology demonstration vehicle carried by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). Schiaparelli and TGO were launched on 14 March 2016 on a Proton rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Schiaparelli will demonstrate the capability of ESA and European industry to perform a controlled landing on the surface of Mars. The preparation for this mission enhances Europe’s expertise and enables the testing of key technologies which could be used in subsequent missions to Mars.
Although designed to demonstrate entry, descent and landing technologies, Schiaparelli also offers limited, but useful, science capabilities. It will deliver a science package that will operate on the surface of Mars for a short duration after landing, planned to last approximately 2-4 sols (Martian days).
Arriving at Mars
Schiaparelli has started its journey to Mars attached to the Trace Gas Orbiter. They were launched on a Proton rocket on 14 March 2016 and will arrive approximately 7 months later at Mars.
A communication link between Schiaparelli and the Trace Gas Orbiter will facilitate the real-time transmission of the most important data measured by the module. The complete set of data acquired will be transmitted to the Orbiter within 8 sols after the landing (a solar day on Mars, or sol, is 24 hours and 37 minutes).
The ExoMars Schiaparelli Design
Schiaparelli builds on a heritage of designs that have been evaluated and tested by ESA during earlier ExoMars studies. The module accommodates a series of sensors that will monitor the behaviour of all key technologies during the mission. These technologies include a special material for thermal protection, a parachute system, a radar Doppler altimeter system, and a braking system controlled by liquid propulsion. The data will be sent back to Earth for post-flight reconstruction in support of future European missions to Mars.
The main characteristics of Schiaparelli are provided in the table below:
The design activities are performed by European industry, led by Thales Alenia Space – Italy under the close supervision of ESA.
Schiaparelli science and engineering sensors
Because Schiaparelli is primarily demonstrating technologies needed for landing, it does not have a long scientific mission lifetime: it is intended to survive on the surface for just a few days by using the excess energy capacity of its batteries. However, a set of engineering and scientific sensors will analyse the local environment during descent and after landing.
Schiaparelli carries a small science payload, called DREAMS (Dust Characterisation, Risk Assessment, and Environment Analyser on the Martian Surface), to study the environment. DREAMS consists of a suite of sensors to measure the local wind speed and direction (MetWind), humidity (DREAMS-H), pressure (DREAMS-P), atmospheric temperature close to the surface (MarsTem), the transparency of the atmosphere (Solar Irradiance Sensor, SIS), and atmospheric electric fields (Atmospheric Radiation and Electricity Sensor; MicroARES) at Mars. The payload will operate on the surface of Mars for 2–8 sols.
In addition, there is an investigation known as AMELIA, for entry and descent science data collection using the spacecraft engineering sensors.
A separate instrumentation package, COMARS+, will monitor the heat flux on the back cover of Schiaparelli as it passes through the atmosphere.
A compact array of laser retroreflectors, called INRRI, is attached to the zenith-facing surface of Schiaparelli. This can be used as a target for Mars orbiters to laser-locate the module.
Read more about Schiaparelli's science studies here.