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Schiaparelli Released From Trace Gas Orbiter and Begins Its Descent to Mars

Status Report From: European Space Agency
Posted: Sunday, October 16, 2016

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16 October

18:43 CEST: Full telemetry link with ExoMars/TGO has been restored via ESA's 35m deep-space ground station at Malargüe, Argentina.

18:30 CEST: The Schiaparelli module was released from the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) at 14:42 GMT (16:42 CEST) as planned.

Today, three days before gravity will ensure the arrival of ExoMars 2016 at Mars, the Schiaparelli Entry, Descent & landing demonstrator Module separated from the TGO orbiter and is now en route on a ballistic trajectory to reach the Red Planet, enter its atmosphere and land softly in an area close to the equator known as Meridiani Planum.

However, TGO unexpectedly did not return telemetry (on-board status information), and sent only its carrier signal, indicating it is operational. The anomaly that prevents TGO's telemetry from being sent is under investigation, and is expected to be resolved within the next few hours.

An update will be posted in the next few hours.

17:27 CEST: ExoMars Flight Director Michel Denis confirmed that separation of Schiaparelli has occurred and and signals from TGO have been reacquired. The signals do not contain the expected telemetry (information on the onboard status), and the teams are investigating the situation.

17:02 CEST: Flight dynamics team at ESOC confirms separation of Schiaparelli from TGO on the basis of Doppler signal from the carrier. The Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) near Pune, India, has also recorded a very faint signal that indicates separation. Official confirmation expected soon when telemetry from TGO is received.

16:42 CEST: According to the timeline, Schiaparelli should have separated from TGO. Confirmation is expected on Earth soon and will be announced by ExoMars Flight Director Michel Denis once the data is on ground.

15:50 CEST: Both Schiaparelli and ExoMars/TGO are in good shape! The A-team shift of the mission control team are now on console in Main Control Room at ESOC. ExoMars/TGO has completed its slew into separation attitude/orientation. Communication now provided by ESA's 35m deep-space tracking station at New Norcia, Australia. Separation on track for 16:42 CEST.

13:25 CEST: The separation timeline has started! Teams at ESOC are extremely busy monitoring the sequence of events scheduled for today's separation, expected at 16:42 CEST. Both the ExoMars/TGO orbiter and the Schiaparelli lander module are in great shape. The lander has been switched on and engineers monitoring telemetry - on-board status information - report that temperatures on Schiaparelli are nominal. ExoMars/TGO has already begun slewing - rotating in space - into the correct attitude for separation. Just prior to separation, at 16:31 CEST, mission controllers expect to lose the full data link with TGO, and then will follow progress by monitoring the basic unmodulated carrier signal only, as a sort of beacon. We may also see signals received via the GMRT radio telescope in Pune, India, although this is strictly an experiment and may not function as planned. One-way signal time today is 9 mins and 34 secs.

10:10 CEST: Today, Schiaparelli, still attached to ExoMars/TGO, is switched on, and its systems checked out one final time. Experts from Thales Alenia Space (Italy) working at ESOC will verify the final set of time-tagged commands, which have been uploaded via TGO and stored on board Schiaparelli so that it can function more or less autonomously throughout its mission. TGO will eject Schiaparelli at 16:42 CEST, dispatching it on a three-day coast and a six-minute descent to the surface. Ground station coverage will be provided by NASA's giant 70m Deep Space Network (DSN) ground stations at Canberra, Australia, and Madrid, Spain, which will listen for the spacecraft's signals as the Schiaparelli module separates. It will be pushed away from TGO at just 30 cm/second, but this tiny push can be detected by the DSN stations.

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