Data from each of the two rovers active on Mars reached Earth last week in the successful first relay test of a NASA radio aboard Europe’s new Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO).
The transmissions from NASA rovers Opportunity and Curiosity, received by one of the twin Electra radios on the orbiter on Nov. 22, mark a strengthening of the international telecommunications network supporting Mars exploration. The orbiter’s main radio for communications with Earth subsequently relayed onward to Earth the data received by Electra. (…)
Frequent use of TGO’s relay capability to support Mars rover operations is planned to begin more than a year from now. That’s after the orbiter finishes adjusting its orbit to a near-circular path about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Mars’ surface. Meanwhile, four other active Mars orbiters also carry radios that can provide relay service for missions on the surface of Mars. The two active rovers routinely send data homeward via NASA orbiters Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
“The arrival of ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars, with its NASA-provided Electra relay payload on board, represents a significant step forward in our Mars relay capabilities,” said Chad Edwards, manager of the Mars Relay Network Office within the Mars Exploration Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “In concert with our three existing NASA orbiters and ESA’s earlier Mars Express orbiter, we now have a truly international Mars relay network that will greatly increase the amount of data that future Mars landers and rovers can return from the surface of the Red Planet.” [More at link]