ExoMars 2016 arrives at destination

ExoMars 2016 arrives at destination

10 October 2016 – The first mission of the ExoMars programme, launched successfully on the 14th of March this year, is about to arrive at Mars. ExoMars 2016 consists of two components: the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Entry, descent and landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), also known as Schiaparelli. The main objectives of this mission are to search for atmospheric trace gases and to test key technologies in preparation for ESA’s contribution to subsequent missions to Mars.

Contribution Space Pole

Scientists and engineers of the Space Pole are involved in both components.

The Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB) is principal investigator (PI) of the NOMAD (Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery) instrument onboard TGO, a Belgian spectrometer which aims at measuring the atmospheric composition of Mars, with special attention for methane, a possible signature of active biological or geological processes.

The Royal Observatory of Belgium (ROB) is co-PI of AMELIA (Atmospheric Mars Entry and Landing Investigation and Analysis). The AMELIA-team will use engineering sensors onboard Schiaparelli to study the Martian atmosphere during its descent to the surface.

ExoMars’ journey

After having travelled for about 140 million kilometers, the TGO-Schiaparelli configuration will reach Mars on October 16. Once there, Schiaparelli will be separated from the TGO orbiter and coast towards Mars in sleep mode for a period of 3 days. On October 19, TGO will receive a command from the ground control center on Earth to ignite its main engine, to decelerate, and to initiate the crucial Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) maneuver around Mars.

Mars Orbit Insertion

After the launch, the Mars Orbit Insertion is the second most critical phase in the mission. Whether Belgian scientists will be able to collect and study NOMAD measurements depends on the success of this maneuver. The spacecraft has to be delivered as precisely as possible at exactly the right time and the right place, in order to be captured into a stable orbit around Mars. After the insertion, TGO will first disappear behind Mars and lose radio contact for several hours. If everything goes according to plan, then contact will be established again, and TGO will become ESA’s 2nd spacecraft to orbit the Red Planet, after Mars Express. The spectrometer NOMAD is currently scheduled to be activated in mid-November, to begin transmitting scientific data.

Schiaparelli wake-up

Schiaparelli will be reactivated on October 19, about the same time as the start of the TGO MOI. About one hour after its reactivation, Schiaparelli will enter into the atmosphere at a carefully chosen angle and at a speed of about 6 km/s. The Schiaparelli module will perform the first landing ever during the Martian dust season, when regional and global dust storms are more frequent. If successful, Schiaparelli will become the first European lander on the Red planet.

Descent and surface data

Along its trajectory, from an altitude of about 130 km down to the Martian surface, Schiaparelli will record a rich set of flight data. The Belgian AMELIA scientists will study these data to reconstruct its trajectory and determine atmospheric conditions, such as density, temperature and pressure. These measurements are key to better understand the Martian atmosphere.

In addition, scientists from ROB will also support the analysis of the camera images made by DECA (DEscent CAmera) during Schiaparelli’s parachute descent and of the meteorological parameters gathered by DREAMS (Dust characterisation, Risk assessment, and Environment Analyser on the Martian Surface) on the surface of Mars.

On 19 and 20 October, only by appointment, following scientists and engineers will be at your disposal at the Royal Observatory of Belgium to answer all your questions.

Royal Observatory of Belgium (KSB-ORB)


Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB)



Royal Observatory of Belgium
Meridian Room
Ringlaan 3 Avenue Circulaire
1180 Brussel/Bruxelles