Keeping up with ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

Trace_Gas_Orbiter_aerobrakingOn Friday, 17 November, the flight controllers at ESOC began operations to bring the spacecraft into a new phase of the on-going aerobraking campaign, marking the start of ‘shorter’ orbits. ‘Short’ is considered, somewhat arbitrarily, as when the orbital period (i.e. time needed to complete one orbit) falls below 6 hrs. Here’s a brief summary of progress to date.

TGO resumed its aerobraking campaign in August after a short break during summer due to conjunction with the Sun (that is, the Sun blocked the line-of-sight signal path between Earth and Mars), which makes for difficulties in communicating with the Red Planet.

Almost a month later, on 19 September, TGO’s operators faced, for the first time, a situation that violated the peak acceleration limits on the spacecraft, which then triggered an autonomous ‘flux reduction manoeuvre.’

During this operation, the propulsion system operated to raise the pericentre height (the point in the orbit where the spacecraft is closest to the planet) by 3 km, so that the next time the spacecraft passed through the atmosphere, the aerodynamic drag was reduced.

This event was quickly ‘recovered’ – which is engineer-speak meaning ‘everything got back to normal’ – so no delay in the overall aerobraking campaign was incurred.

“As of now, TGO aerobraking is on track with respect to our long-term predictions,” says [TGO Spacecraft Operations Manager] Peter [Schmitz].

“On 8 November, our orbital period was seven hours and eight minutes, while now it is closer to six hours and twenty minutes.” [More at link]

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HiRISE: The wind is your only companion at Meridiani Planum

tumblr_p0g7f6K7Up1rlz4gso2_1280The wind is your only companion at Meridiani Planum. This area in Meridiani Planum is not far from the landing site of the rover Opportunity.

Beautiful Mars series.

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MARCI weather report, Nov 27-Dec 3, 2017

MARCI-November-28-2017During the past week on Mars, dust hazes and dust clouds were observed over northern Utopia, just west of the Olympia dune field. Looking to the low latitudes, the aphelion cloud belt proceeded to dominate the skies with condensate water-ice clouds strewn from Elysium to Tharsis, as well as above all the major shield volcanoes. Sporadic short-lived dust storms were spotted east and west of the Opportunity rover site. [More at link, including video]

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THEMIS: Landslide rubble, hills, and layered deposits on floor of Melas Chasma

Landslides and rubble (THEMIS_IOTD_20171206)THEMIS Image of the Day, December 6, 2017. This VIS image is located right at the edge of the canyon with the surrounding plains – the flat area at the bottom of the image. Some small landslide deposits are visible originating at the cliff side.

Melas Chasma is part of the largest canyon system on Mars, Valles Marineris. At only 563 km long (349 miles) it is not the longest canyon, but it is the widest.

Located in the center of Valles Marineris, it has depths up to 9,000 meters (30,000 feet) from the surrounding plains, and is the location of many large landslide deposits, as will as layered materials and sand dunes.  There is evidence of both water and wind action as modes of formation for many of the interior deposits.

NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has spent over 15 years in orbit around Mars, circling the planet more than 69,000 times. It holds the record for longest working spacecraft at Mars. THEMIS, the IR/VIS camera system, has collected data for the entire mission and provides images covering all seasons and lighting conditions.

Over the years many features of interest have received repeated imaging, building up a suite of images covering the entire feature. From the deepest chasma to the tallest volcano, individual dunes inside craters and dune fields that encircle the north pole, channels carved by water and lava, and a variety of other feature, THEMIS has imaged them all.

For the next several months the Image of the Day will focus on the Tharsis volcanoes, the various chasmata of Valles Marineris, and the major dunes fields. We hope you enjoy these images!

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Curiosity update: Dogleg left

NRB_565635577EDR_F0670806NCAM00375M_-br2Sol 1895-96, December 5, 2017, update by MSL scientist Mark Salvatore: After spending the weekend analyzing the chemistry of several interesting targets, the science team has planned yet another action-packed science investigation into Curiosity’s next two days on Vera Rubin Ridge. In addition, while Curiosity has spent the last several weeks progressing largely to the south, the team has started to command Curiosity to head more towards the east, doglegging left along the nominal Mt. Sharp Ascent Route (MSAR). Over the next few days, the plan is for Curiosity to investigate what appears to be a small eroded impact crater as well as an erosional window into some visually distinct bedrock outcrops.

Before reaching these targets, Curiosity will conduct some additional investigations of the VRR and the local blocky materials. Sol 1895 has a 1.5 hour block of time dedicated to remote observations of the surrounding terrain. Curiosity will begin with some Mastcam color images of two interesting targets in front of the rover: a blocky exposure of fractured bedrock (named “Mapedi”) and a nodular piece of bedrock (named “Koonap”). Afterwards, ChemCam will make active LIBS measurements on three bedrock targets (named “Naute,” “Mzamba,” and “Nauga,” located above the shadow of Curiosity’s mast in the provided Navcam image) that are different in tone than other dusty materials in front of the rover, followed by a Mastcam documentation image of this target area. [More at link]

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HiRISE: Along the wall of Janssen Crater

tumblr_p0g6zlmMDC1rlz4gso1_1280Along the wall of Janssen Crater. Janssen Crater is 158 km wide, and named after Pierre Janssen, a French astronomer credited with discovering the gaseous nature of the solar chromosphere.

Beautiful Mars series.

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THEMIS: Layered deposits in Melas Chasma

Layered deposits on Melas Chasma floor (THEMIS_IOTD_20171205)THEMIS Image of the Day, December 5, 2017. Today’s image is just a bit further to the west of yesterday’s. Here there are no dunes, but extensive outcrops of layered material. It is possible that these layered deposits were formed by sediments settling in a lake.

Melas Chasma is part of the largest canyon system on Mars, Valles Marineris. At only 563 km long (349 miles) it is not the longest canyon, but it is the widest.

Located in the center of Valles Marineris, it has depths up to 9,000 meters (30,000 feet) from the surrounding plains, and is the location of many large landslide deposits, as will as layered materials and sand dunes.  There is evidence of both water and wind action as modes of formation for many of the interior deposits.

NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has spent over 15 years in orbit around Mars, circling the planet more than 69,000 times. It holds the record for longest working spacecraft at Mars. THEMIS, the IR/VIS camera system, has collected data for the entire mission and provides images covering all seasons and lighting conditions.

Over the years many features of interest have received repeated imaging, building up a suite of images covering the entire feature. From the deepest chasma to the tallest volcano, individual dunes inside craters and dune fields that encircle the north pole, channels carved by water and lava, and a variety of other feature, THEMIS has imaged them all.

For the next several months the Image of the Day will focus on the Tharsis volcanoes, the various chasmata of Valles Marineris, and the major dunes fields. We hope you enjoy these images!

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Curiosity: Exploring the ridge top

1894-navcamSol 1894, December 4, 2017. In a series of six short drives, including several where MAHLI (Mars Hand Lens Imager) photos of rocks were taken, Curiosity rolled about 20 meters (64 feet). Its path curved around to avoid a depression apparently filled with soft, wind-blown sediments. It is seen at left in the Navcam composite above. Click the image to enlarge it.

Sol 1894 raw images (from all cameras), and Curiosity’s latest location.

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HiRISE: Terrain west of Oenotria Scopuli

tumblr_p0g13zgazH1rlz4gso1_1280Terrain west of Oenotria Scopuli. Beautiful Mars series.

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Opportunity report, Sol 4925, by A.J.S. Rayl, The Planetary Society

20171202_1-Erosional-Tails-Sol-4895-1031171_f840December 1, 2017: Opportunity Returns Fundamental Finding in Perseverance, Cruises Through Winter Solstice: Opportunity continued the historic winter science campaign inside Perseverance Valley and delivered the goods that confirmed an important discovery in November, and then cruised through winter solstice, driving the Mars Explorations Rovers (MER) mission closer to its 14th anniversary of surface operations coming up in January.

“We conducted a fascinating campaign to acquire one of the most difficult and beautiful microscopic image mosaics in the history of this project,” said MER Principal Investigator Steve Squyres, of Cornell University. “We got it. And we made a fundamental finding, one that was enabled by some very, very tough driving.” (…)

Opportunity shot pictures of the site with her stereo Pancam “eyes” back in August as she drove by it on her way to the next, planned stop. The scientists were struck by what they saw: scouring on some of the northern outcrop rocks, specifically what appeared to be erosional tails, geological signs of an erosive force that seemed to be pointing up hill. “It looks pretty convincing in the Pancam images that these little tails actually are pointing uphill, though I wouldn’t say it was bulletproof,” said Squyres. (…)

“Perseverance Valley is billions of years old and it’s been sandblasted through the years, probably by a prevailing wind that’s blowing from the east, up and out of the crater,” Squyres pointed out. “So this distinctive scouring that we’re seeing, we believe, is not related to the original carving of Perseverance Valley, but was something that came along later.” [More at link]

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