The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has returned the first images of the Red Planet from its new orbit. The spacecraft arrived in a near-circular 400 km altitude orbit a few weeks ago ahead of its primary goal to seek out gases that may be linked to active geological or biological activity on Mars.
The orbiter’s Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System, CaSSIS, took this stunning image, which features part of an impact crater, during the instrument’s test period. The camera was activated on 20 March and was tested for the start of its main mission, on 28 April.
“We transmitted new software to the instrument at the start of the test phase and after a couple of minor issues, the instrument is in good health and ready to work,” says the camera’s principal investigator, Nicolas Thomas from the University of Bern in Switzerland.
The image captures a 40 km-long segment of Korolev Crater located high in the northern hemisphere. The bright material on the rim of the crater is ice.
“We were really pleased to see how good this picture was given the lighting conditions,” says Antoine Pommerol, a member of the CaSSIS science team working on the calibration of the data. “It shows that CaSSIS can make a major contribution to studies of the carbon dioxide and water cycles on Mars.”
The image is assembled from three images in different colours that were taken almost simultaneously on 15 April.
“We aim to fully automate the image production process,” says Nick. “Once we achieve this, we can distribute the data quickly to the science community for analysis.” [More at link]