The European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) first Mars orbiter will give crucial help to the second orbiter when it arrives at the Red Planet later this year.
The ESA’s second Mars orbiter is set to arrive on October 19 after the Schiaparelli lander and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) lifted off in March.
Once it begins orbiting Mars, the TGO will start to analyse the rare gases found in the planet’s atmosphere, in particular methane, which on Earth shows the existence of active biological or geological processes.
Schiaparelli, meanwhile, will demonstrate the technology required to make a controlled and safe landing.
However, the two spacecraft must firstly arrive at the planet, which is why the 13 year old Mars Express will be so useful in ensuring they both make it to Mars.
Schiparelli will separate on October 16 and descend three days after, landing as the TGO enters orbit.
The ESA’s Mars Express has delivered an array of science data over the last 13 years and on landing day will record signals for mission control from Schiaparelli to confirm whether the spacecraft has arrived safely. Later, the Mars Express will be used to reconstruct its descent.
Deputy Spacecraft Operations Manager of the Mars Express, James Godfrey, says that the Mars Express Melacom communications system will be used. The Melacom was initially constructed to enable communication between NASA rovers and the Beagle 2 lander.
He said that this well ensure that the Mars Express can detect and make a record of crucial descent events made by Schiaparelli, including parachute deployment, entry into the atmosphere, touchdown, heat shield release and the start of activities on the planet’s surface.
In February, the Mars Express orbit was adjusted to make sure it was in the right section of the martian sky to receive the signals being transmitted from the descending Schiaparelli.
On the proposed landing date, around 80 minutes prior to landing, the Schiaparelli spacecraft will come to life and shortly after will start to transmit a beacon signal.