ExoMars 2016 Orbiter and Lander Mated for March Launch

ExoMars Schiaparelli lander being mated with the Trace Gas Orbiter on 12 February 2016. Credit: ESA - B. Bethge

Earth’s lone mission to the Red Planet this year has now been assembled into launch configuration and all preparations are currently on target to support blastoff from Baikonur at the opening of the launch window on March 14, 2016.The ambitious ExoMars 2016 mission is comprised of a pair of European spacecraft named the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli lander, built and funded by the European Space Agency (ESA).The duo have now been assembled and mated by technicians into their final launch configuration, working in a clean room at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, for launch atop a Russian Proton rocket.After launch the pair will remain joined for the eight month long interplanetary journey to Mars until 16 October, at which time the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing (EDL) demonstrator module will separate from the orbiter.Three days later on October 19, TGO is slated to enter Mars orbit and Schiaparelli will begin its plummet through the thin Martian atmosphere and hoped for soft landing.The mating operations commenced on February 12 with the hydrazine fueled lander in a mounting platform surrounding the orbiter that “facilitates the activities that need to be done about 4 meters off the ground,” according to ESA officials.Over the following days, technicians then completed all the critical connections between the two spacecraft and conducted function tests to insure that all systems were operating as expected.Specialists from the Airbus Defence and Space team also bonded the final few thermal protection tiles onto Schiaparelli. Several spots remained open during the mating operation to allow for equipment hooks to latch on and maneuver the spacecraft. With those tasks done, technician can apply the finishing touches.The launch window extends until March 25.The ExoMars spacecraft will join ESA’s only other Red Planet probe – the Mars —> Read More