ExoMars: Q & A on Trace Gas Orbiter aerobraking

exomars_2016_tgo_enters_orbit_1100_1_0Meeting Mario Montagna – ExoMars 2016 Avionics Systems Engineer – Exploration & Science Italy Head of Avionics, Data Systems & Communications Design department.

The ExoMars 2016 spacecraft was launched by a Proton rocket on March 14, 2016. About seven months later its Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) module was injected into orbit around Mars. Several engine burns over the last few months have further adjusted its orbit. The next step is to circularize the orbit, reducing its period to about two hours, by conducting aerobraking maneuvers over a period of more than 12 months. Just back from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, where he participated in the start of the aerobraking phase,  Mario Montagna shares his insights on this mission.

Space Q&A: The TGO has the very delicate task of detecting minute traces of gas in the Martian atmosphere, especially methane, which could indicate the presence of life. How is it doing?

M. Montagna: The spacecraft is in good shape, fully operational and ready to start this challenging phase. In preparation for the aerobraking phase, the TGO conducted a series of maneuvers to shift its angle of travel with respect to the planet’s equator to almost 74°. This inclination will provide ideal coverage of the surface for the instruments, while still offering good visibility for relaying data from current and future landers – including the ExoMars rover scheduled for launch in 2020….  [More at link]

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InSight: Elysium landing site coverage by HiRISE

PIA21489This map shows footprints of images taken from Mars orbit by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera as part of advance analysis of the area where NASA’s InSight mission will land in 2018. The final planned image of the set is targeted to fill in the yellow-outlined rectangle on March 30, 2017. (…) The map covers an area about 100 miles (160 kilometers) across.

HiRISE has been used since 2006 to inspect dozens of candidate landing sites on Mars, including the sites where the Phoenix and Curiosity missions landed in 2008 and 2012. The site selected for InSight’s Nov. 26, 2018, landing is on a flat plain in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars, between 4 and 5 degrees north of the equator.

HiRISE images are detailed enough to reveal individual boulders big enough to be a landing hazard. The March 30 observation that completes the planned advance imaging of this landing area brings the number of HiRISE images of the area to 73. Some are pairs covering the same ground. Overlapping observations provide stereoscopic, 3-D information for evaluating characteristics such as slopes. On this map, coverage by stereo pairs is coded in pale blue, compared to the gray-green of single HiRISE image footprints.

The ellipses on the map are about 81 miles (130 kilometers) west-to-east by about 17 miles (27 kilometers) north-to-south. InSight has about 99 percent odds of landing within the ellipse for which it is targeted. The three ellipses indicate landing expectations for three of the possible InSight launch dates: white outline for launch at the start of the launch period, on May 5, 2018; blue for launch on May 26, 2018; orange for launch on June 8, 2018. [More at link]

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Curiosity update: CheMin drop-off & SAM analysis

NRB_544060484EDR_F0620108NCAM00207M_Sol 1652, March 29, 2017, update by USGS scientist Lauren Edgar: Sol 1651 activities executed nominally, so today’s plan is focused on dropping off the fine-grained portion of “Ogunquit Beach” Scoop #1 (now named “OG1”) to CheMin, and SAM analysis of OG1.  The plan kicks off with Mastcam multispectral imaging of the right and left wheel scuffs, as well as Mastcam change detection imaging.  Then ChemCam will investigate “Tumbledown Mountain,” “Elephant Mountain” and “Canoe Point,” to characterize the composition of sand in different parts of the left wheel scuff.  Navcam will also acquire an image to look at line-of-sight dust loading within the crater.  Later in the afternoon, part of… [More at link]

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THEMIS: Sand sheet in Cimmeria crater

Sand sheet in crater (THEMIS_IOTD_20170330)THEMIS Image of the Day, March 30, 2017. Today’s VIS image shows a sand sheet with surface dune forms on the floor of an unnamed crater in Terra Cimmeria.

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

 

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HiRISE: Distinctive brightness

ESP_011443_1380This full-resolution image is centered on a bright deposit at the end of a gully channel.

The bright deposit does not seem to be present in an image acquired several years earlier than 2009, and is likely to be very recent based on its distinctive brightness. [More at link]

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MRO completes 50,000 orbits

PIA21487_hiresThe most data-productive spacecraft yet at Mars swept past its 50,000th orbit this week, continuing to compile the most sharp-eyed global coverage ever accomplished by a camera at the Red Planet.

In addition, the spacecraft — NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) — recently aided preparations for NASA’s next mission to Mars, the InSight lander. Insight will launch next year on a mission to study the planet’s deep interior. Meanwhile, the orbiter continues diverse science observations of Mars and communications-relay service for two active Mars rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity.

MRO’s Context Camera (CTX) exploits a sweet spot in the balance between resolution and image file size. With a resolution of about 20 feet (6 meters) per pixel in images of the Martian surface, it has provided a library of images now covering 99.1 percent of Mars. That is approximately equivalent to the land area of Earth. No other camera ever sent to Mars has photographed so much of the planet in such high resolution.

The Context Camera has taken about 90,000 images since the spacecraft began examining Mars from orbit in late 2006. Each one reveals shapes of features down to sizes smaller than a tennis court, in a swath of ground about 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) wide.

“Reaching 99.1-percent coverage has been tricky because a number of factors, including weather conditions, coordination with other instruments, downlink limitations, and orbital constraints, tend to limit where we can image and when,” said Context Camera Team Leader Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. [More at link]

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Opportunity: Pancam scouting to south & west

4684-pancamSSol 4684, March 28, 2017. To evaluate the best route forward, mission controllers directed the Pancam to take filtered images in two directions. Above, is southward, below is to the west. For larger views, click either image; false-color versions by Holger Isenberg.

Opportunity raw images, its latest mission status, a location map, and atmospheric opacity, known as tau.

4684-pancamW

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Did impact-generated tsunamis make ‘thumbprint terrain’?

mars-thumbprint-terrainThirty years ago, during a 3-month long visit to the U.S. Geological Survey in Arizona, Francois Costard saw Viking orbiter images of Mars’s northern plains showing strange curving features along the boundary between the Martian northern and southern hemispheres.

Costard, a student in planetary science, thought these features and the deposits along them looked strange and wondered how they came to be.

“It was very curious and it was, for me, very impossible to interpret these landforms,” he said. Three decades later, and now a scientist at CNRS in France, Costard shows how those strange landforms could be the remains of huge tsunamis.

A study published last year [see here and here] interpreted images of the red planet and suggested the deposits were made by impact-generated tsunamis more than 3 billion years ago.

In a new study [published in the Journal of Geophysical Research], Costard and his colleagues independently build on that work by including the geological characteristics of the deposits and modeling how impact-generated tsunamis could have created them. They conclude the deposits may have come from asteroids slamming into a northern ocean billions of years ago, generating waves 300 meters (nearly 1,000 feet) high.

The researchers also used detailed geological maps to show how these waves could be responsible for creating the so-called Thumbprint Terrain, a mysterious type of patterned ground resembling the lines on a human thumbprint.

“The only way to explain it is the tsunami hypothesis,” said Costard. [More at links]

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HiRISE: Valleys on Darwin Crater rim and wall

tumblr_onfoywVqJ61rlz4gso2_1280Valleys on east rim and wall of Darwin Crater imaged by Viking — Viking Image 571B01.

Beautiful Mars series.

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MARCI weather report, March 20-26, 2017

march-24-2017Dust-lifting activity on Mars this past week was relatively uneventful compared to that of the previous weeks. Skies above Noachis continued to clear up as dust from the recent regional storm settled out of the atmosphere. Local-scale dust storms continued to propagate eastward along the edge of the seasonal north polar ice cap. A couple transient dust storms were also spotted dipping southward over the plains of… [More at link, including video]

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