The first image from the ExoMars craft. Behold the glory of space! Image: ESA/Roscosmos

ExoMars Takes First Hi-Res Image With The Lens Cap On

Article written: 15 Apr , 2016
Updated: 15 Apr , 2016

It doesn’t exactly qualify as eye candy, but the first image from the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars spacecraft is beautiful to behold in its own way. For most of us, a picture like this would mean something went horribly wrong with our camera. But as the first image from the spacecraft, it tells us that the camera and its pointing system are functioning properly.

ExoMars is a joint project between the European Space Agency and Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. It’s an ambitious project, and consists of 2 separate launches. On March 14, 2016, the first launch took place, consisting of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the stationary test lander called Schiaparelli, which will be delivered by the Martian surface by the TGO.

TGO will investigate methane sources on Mars, and act as a communications satellite for the lander. The test lander is trying out new landing technologies, which will help with the second launch, in 2020, when a mobile rover will be launched and landed on the Martian surface.

So far, all systems are go on the ExoMars craft during its voyage. “All systems have been activated and checked out, including power, communications, startrackers, guidance and navigation, all payloads and Schiaparelli, while the flight control team have become more comfortable operating this new and sophisticated spacecraft,” says Peter Schmitz, ESA’s Spacecraft Operations Manager.

Three days prior to reaching Mars, the Schiaparelli lander will separate from the TGO and begin its descent to the Martian surface. Though Schiaparelli is mostly designed to gather information about its descent and landing, it still will do some science. It has a small payload of instrument which will function for 2-8 days on the surface, studying the environment and returning the results to Earth.

The TGO will perform its own set of maneuvers, inserting itself into an elliptical orbit around Mars and then spending a year aero-braking in the Martian atmosphere. After that, the TGO will settle into a circular orbit about 400 km above the surface of Mars.

The TGO is hunting for methane, which is a chemical signature for life. It will also be studying the surface features of Mars.

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3 Responses

  1. jjb says

    This is exciting news and here is HOPE that it all goes well. 🙂

    My question is still this: Why are we not spending at least equal time getting MAN, back on the Moon and getting a base established there?

    Seriously, the Moon is the LOGICAL next step.

    * It is closer to Earth and would allow for emergencies to be handled in a more “timely fashion”.
    * It would cost less fuel for Mar’s launches and such.
    * Allow us to develop the Next Gen: Space Shuttles, from Earth – ISS and the Moon’s Orbit. Moon Mission supplies and Lander’s and such in the PAYLOAD BAY, like the older Space Shuttles. These obviously would be slightly larger…
    * Then once we get a good history of lessons learned and such on the Moon -> THEN MARS!

    If we can handle the seriously harsh environment of the Moon, Mars will almost seem like a “piece of cake”, as it would be slightly less harsh then the Moon.

    But this does not mean we ‘back plate’, the continued Robotic Exploration of Mars.

    We seem to have multi-national team work when we had the Space Shuttle, the current ISS and such.

    So why not take it to the next level? Multi-National and continued peaceful exploration of the Moon – Mars and beyond?

  2. Forty says

    After reading, I still don’t get what’s in that picture…..

  3. crash68 says

    Thats because its not explained and the title suggests something that is incorrect. The lens cap is off. What you see is the subtraction of two images of space taken with a slightly different pointing of the camera. Hence an object (star) will appear once as a white and once as a black spot. You can clearly see this for the brightest star, but at least 3 other stars are also easily picked out. See the ESA PR at
    Also the first category for the article is wrong – it should be ESA, not ESO.

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