ExoMars TGO enters orbit around Mars, lander status currently unknown

It would appear that the European Space Agency's ExoMars mission is – at least in part – successful. The Agency announced today that its ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has entered orbit around the red planet, after the 139-minute long burn needed to be captured by Mars' gravity. That means one important part of the mission has been finished and passed with flying colors, but the other part of the mission remains.

Figuring out whether or not the Schiaparelli lander, which hitched a ride to Mars on the back of the TGO, touched down on planet is next on the docket. Scientists with the Agency haven't received a signal informing them that the lander made it to the surface safely. While that sounds bad, it's worth keeping in mind that the lander was sending messages back to the ESA during its descent, and those were enough to tell officials that its parachutes deployed.

So, not all hope is lost. Now, the ESA will be working through the night to not only examine the data coming in from TGO, but see if there's any signal from the Schiaparelli lander. The Agency says that if the lander touched down successfully, it should have enough battery power to continue functioning for three to ten days. That gives it a rather large window to let the ESA know that it made it to the surface in one piece.

From here, the ESA's other orbiter, Mars Express, and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will be listening in during scheduled windows of time to see if they can pick up anything from the lander. While the lander's mission to Mars is mostly for demonstration purposes, it is equipped with some equipment to carry out some experiments and make the most of its time on the planet.

ESA's mission to Mars, which is being carried out through a partnership with Russia's Roskosmos, is two-pronged. In 2020, the ESA and Roskosmos plan to launch a rover that will eventually arrive at Mars in 2021. Hopefully Schiaparelli landed successfully, because if it did, that has exciting implications for the ESA's 2020 mission.

The ESA will be holding a press conference at 10:00 AM CEST tomorrow morning. It's then we'll find out the details of the data scientists are examining overnight, along with hopefully hearing about the fate of the lander. Stay tuned.

SOURCE: European Space Agency