European Space Agency tests the ExoMars orbiter's cameras and instruments
ExoMars might have lost the Schiaparelli lander, but the mission is far from being a failure: its Trace Gas Orbiter probe is working just fine. The probe spent two orbits, from November 20th to the 28th, making calibrations and testing out its instruments and its cameras.
Since TGO's main purpose is to monitor rare gases on the red planet, its Atmospheric Chemistry Suite sniffed out carbon dioxide during the test run, while the Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery instrument focused on finding water vapor. The ESA has confirmed that both of them are capable of doing their jobs.
ESA also activated the orbiter's neutron detector, FREND, at various times within the same time period. FREND can detect the composition of Mars' surface layers, whether there's water or ice underground, for instance, depending on the speed of the neutrons upon reaching the orbiter. Finally, the probe used its imaging system to take photos of the red planet during its first close flyby on November 22nd at an altitude of around 146 miles.
You can see one of the images above. It's much closer than the photos TGO's bound to capture in the future, since its final orbit will be 249 miles above the surface. However, these 11 initial images are only meant to help ESA improve the onboard camera's software and image quality.
Hakan Svedhem, TGO Project Scientist said:
"We are extremely happy and proud to see that all the instruments are working so well in the Mars environment, and this first impression gives a fantastic preview of what's to come when we start collecting data for real at the end of next year
Not only is the spacecraft itself clearly performing well, but I am delighted to see the various teams working together so effectively in order to give us this impressive insight.
We have identified areas that can be fine-tuned well in advance of the main science mission, and we look forward to seeing what this amazing science orbiter will do in the future."