ExoMars 2016 phones home – from Kazakhstan
17 February 2016Today, the Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli will place a long distance call, from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the mission operations centre in Germany. This is the final software check between the spacecraft and the operations centre before launch on 14 March.
Now that the two ExoMars 2016 spacecraft have been mechanically and electrically united, it’s time to check that they can communicate with the flight control team who will operate the mission from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.
Once the first in-space signal from ExoMars 2016 is received after launch, on the evening on 14 March, ESOC will be the hub through which all communications with the spacecraft will be channelled.
ExoMars 2016 is quite a complex mission for the flight team. It consists of two very different spacecraft - the Trace Gas Orbiter and the entry, descent, and landing demonstrator module, Schiaparelli - each with its own particular characteristics that must nevertheless work in harmony for almost seven months as they travel to Mars.
To ensure that this all runs smoothly, many so-called system validation tests (SVT) are run in the lead up to launch.
During the past two years, these tests have been run on avionics test benches – a flight-representative hardware and software replica – of the Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli, both individually and combined. Usually these are carried out in sessions lasting a few days, and between February 2014 and January 2016, the team spent 33 days in total running these tests.
Of course, the true test case is to run the SVTs on the flight models – and this has been done too, between November 2014 and this month, for a total of 13 days.
For this final SVT, the flight control team will be checking that the launch flight software on both the Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli runs smoothly, as well as running through the pre-launch checks for the Trace Gas Orbiter – just like it will be during the countdown a few hours from launch in just 26 days from now.