Approximate region in box where Schiaparelli lander may be visible above horizon by Opportunity if vehicle goes long. Credit: James Rice/MER/JPL

Approximate region in box where Schiaparelli lander may be visible above horizon by Opportunity if incoming vehicle goes long.
Credit: James Rice/MER/JPL

Call it the Schiaparelli sky show – and if you happen to be NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover, it’s coming to a sky near you.

On October 19th, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module is set to plunge through the Martian atmosphere, descend and land on the planet’s landscape, all within six minutes.

Its descent involves use of a heatshield, parachute, thrusters and a crushable structure for the landing.

Artist impression of the Schiaparelli module on the surface of Mars. Credit: ESA

Artist impression of the Schiaparelli module on the surface of Mars.
Credit: ESA

Robotic eye-witness

The information gleaned by Schiaparelli during this short period is designed to test and demonstrate technologies required to deliver a lander or rover safely onto the surface of the Red Planet.

Once released by its mothership – ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter – on October 16th, the Schiaparelli is targeted to plop down in a relatively flat area in Meridiani Planum, close to the equator in the southern hemisphere.

This region has been imaged extensively from orbit, including by ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Opportunity rover's current location at Spirit Mound. Will it catch the Schiaparelli sky show? Courtesy: James Rice/MER/JPL

Opportunity rover’s current location at Spirit Mound. Will it catch the Schiaparelli sky show?
Courtesy: James Rice/MER/JPL

In position as a robotic eye-witness to the craft’s landing is the Opportunity rover.

West toward the east

The Schiaparelli Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) will enter the Martian atmosphere and be moving from the west toward the east in the sky above its landing site in Meridiani Planum.

That’s the spot where NASA’s Opportunity rover landed in early 2004 and is currently exploring Endeavour Crater in its 10th extended mission, explains astrogeologist Jim Rice, Mars Exploration Rover geology team leader and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

Credit: Spacecraft - ESA/ATG medialab; simulated views based on NASA MRO/CTX images (credit: NASA/JPL/MRO); landing ellipse background image: THEMIS daytime infrared map from Mars Odyssey; simulation: ESA

Credit: Spacecraft – ESA/ATG medialab; simulated views based on NASA MRO/CTX images (credit: NASA/JPL/MRO); landing ellipse background image: THEMIS daytime infrared map from Mars Odyssey; simulation: ESA

Remote chance

“We will attempt to image Schiaparelli as it arrives in our neck of the woods on October 19th,” Rice told Inside Outer Space. “But if the entry and descent of the Schiaparelli EDM is nominal, the Opportunity rover will not see anything because its path will be blocked by the topography of the western rim of Endeavour crater,” he said.

“However, there is a remote chance we could see it above the crater rim if the descent trajectory is long toward the east,” Rice added. “Bottom line is that we will be giving it our best effort and, hopefully, we get lucky.”

Credit: central region: NASA/JPL/MRO; background image: THEMIS daytime infrared map from Mars Odyssey; simulation: ESA

Credit: central region: NASA/JPL/MRO; background image: THEMIS daytime infrared map from Mars Odyssey; simulation: ESA

 

Approaching surface shots

Meanwhile, as the ExoMars Schiaparelli module descends onto Mars it will capture 15 images of the approaching surface, notes ESA. Scientists have simulated the view seen from the module’s descent camera.

Those 15 black and white images snapped by a small camera named DECA — the DEscent CAmera — during Schiaparelli’s descent can be used to reconstruct the module’s trajectory and its motion, as well giving context information for the final touchdown site.

Pre-checkout with protective lens cap on, the DEscent CAmera (DECA) on Schiaparelli, the ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module. Credit: ESA

Pre-checkout with protective lens cap on, the DEscent CAmera (DECA) on Schiaparelli, the ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module.
Credit: ESA

DECA will start taking images after the front-shield of Schiaparelli has been jettisoned during the journey through the Martian atmosphere to the planet’s surface. It will take the 15 images at 1.5 second intervals.

Local memory

The images will be stored in the vehicle’s local memory. To avoid electrostatic discharges affecting the instrument, there will be a delay of several minutes after Schiaparelli has landed on the surface of Mars, before the data are read out by Schiaparelli’s computer and subsequently downlinked to Earth.

DECA was designed and built by Optique et Instruments de Précision (OIP) in Belgium for ESA.

ESA’s Schiaparelli landing at Meridiani Planum on Mars on October 19, 2016. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

ESA’s Schiaparelli landing at Meridiani Planum on Mars on October 19, 2016.
Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

 

 

 

 

 

Cooperative project

The ExoMars effort is a cooperative project between ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos.

ExoMars 2016 comprises two missions: the Trace Gas Orbiter and the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, which were launched on March 14, 2016.

The follow-on ExoMars rover and surface platform is scheduled for launch in 2020.

Take a look at this simulated landing video at:

http://exploration.esa.int/jump.cfm?oid=58439

4 Responses to “Mars Landing! Ringside Seat Rover May Catch Schiaparelli Sky Show”

  • Stanley Kustaa says:

    This is good Job, and this will store good Mummery’s

  • Gary Skinner says:

    Can Opportunity record video of the event, if it does catch it?

    • Leonard David says:

      Just still images…although still images can be made in a video clip. Not likely in recording the landing.

      Thanks for your interest.

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