ExoMars 2016 spacecraft ready for shipment to Baikonur launch base
Thales Alenia Space announced today that the ExoMars 2016 spacecraft is about to leave the clean rooms at its plant in Cannes, where it is completing integration and testing, for shipment to the launch base in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The launch campaign will then start, including propellant filling, final functional tests and mating with the launcher, for a launch scheduled in March 2016.
ExoMars is a is a joint endeavor between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), with the Italian Space Agency (ASI) playing a strong role as major contributor within the ESA State Members, that also developed a laser micro-reflector called INRRI (INstrument for landing-Roving laser Retroreflector Investigations) together with National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN). It is developed by a European industrial consortium led by Thales Alenia Space Italia and involving almost 134 space companies from ESA State members.
ExoMars is the first mission in ESA's Aurora exploration program, comprising two separate missions. The first mission, in 2016, will study Mars' atmosphere and demonstrate the feasibility of several critical technologies for atmospheric entry, descent and landing. Mastering these key phases is a prerequisite for any future human exploration of Mars. The 2016 mission will also provide a communications relay to transmit data between the Earth and Martian rovers used on subsequent missions. The second mission in this program, in 2018, will include an autonomous European rover, capable of taking soil samples down to a depth of two meters, and analyzing their chemical, physical and biological properties.
Thales Alenia Space Italy is industrial prime contractor. On the 2016 mission, it is in charge of designing the Entry, Descent and landing Demonstration module (EDM), while Thales Alenia Space France is responsible for the design and integration of the orbital module, or TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter). The main contribution of Roscosmos, in addition to providing equipment, scientific experiments and ground support, is to build the main part of the descent module for the 2018 mission, and also provide Proton launchers for each mission.
The spacecraft that will reach Mars in October 2016 comprises the TGO and EDM modules. The latter was named "Schiaparelli", in honor of the Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli, considered one of the leading figures in 19th century Italian astronomy, and also a leading scholar of ancient astronomy science and history.