Checking in with the Trace Gas Orbiter
14 June 2016Three months since launch and with a little over 260 million km to travel before reaching Mars, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter instruments are running through their paces this week during the mid-course checkout tests.
ExoMars first light.
Back in April, the first in-flight checks on the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) science payload were carried out, during the near-Earth commissioning tests. At that time, commands to ACS, CaSSIS, NOMAD, and FREND were sent in real time by operators at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
The results from those tests have been carefully scrutinised by the principal investigators and used to fine-tune the calibration and configuration checks that will be carried out this week.
This time around the tests will be run autonomously from the onboard mission timeline, with no real-time intervention, just as will be the case during routine science operations. The commands, generated by the ExoMars Science Ground Segment team at the European Space Astronomy Centre, were sent to the spacecraft by mission operators on 8 June via the New Norcia ground station and are being executed on board this week.
NOMAD LNO solar spectrum (April 2016).
NOMAD UVIS solar spectrum (April 2016).
Ground stations at New Norcia, Malargüe, and Canberra will receive the data, which are then transmitted to the mission operations centre and science ground segment, and on to the principal investigators.
This is the last opportunity for calibration and configuration tests on the instruments before mission operators turn their attention to preparing for the next major operational milestones.
The first of these is a deep space manoeuvre on 28 July to line the spacecraft up to intercept Mars on 19 October.
From the end of July onwards preparations begin in earnest for the separation of Schiaparelli from TGO on 16 October, followed by the TGO orbit insertion manoeuvre on 19 October, and the entry, descent and landing of Schiaparelli on the same day.