Earlier this month, the launch date of ExoMars was postponed for a couple of months. Instead of sending in January 2016, the European Expedition will leave in March, but still get to Mars almost at the scheduled time. How is this possible?
The ExoMars 2016 expedition consists of Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), a satellite that will explore the composition of the atmosphere of Mars, and a small descent vehicle called Schiaparelli, which will test landing technologies. This is a technical problem with Schiaparelli, which collects materials, specially equipped with two measuring instruments that monitor the state of the fuel at a specific time under pressure during planting.
“Recently, the manufacturer (Moog Bradford) analyzed its latest production records and various data, and it was discovered through some tests that the process was not as it should be. There may be cracks in the devices, ”Don McCoy, ExoMars project manager, told Discovery News.
The “facilities are not intended for landing, but only for data collection,” he added, therefore, it was decided to leave them.
“Since we found out about this unexpectedly, the ExoMars team made changes to the schedule due to a problem,” McCoy said. Mars and Earth will converge between the periods of the first launch window in January (from 7 to 27) and the new launch window in March (14 to 25). It is likely that ExoMars will need to burn its engine longer (burning more fuel), after a loop around the Sun, to arrive there, as planned in October 2016. Potential cracks could cause fuel leakage and, thus, the gauges were completely removed in a process that lasted about three weeks (including the dismantling of the spacecraft, the careful removal of devices and the implementation of inspection and assembly).
There are several other expeditions that should have used these devices; McCoy did not specify which missions, but said that these missions were not designed as ExoMars, and it would be easier for them to deal with the problem.
After arriving, TGO will remain on Mars to serve as a communications relay for the ExoMars 2018 rover, and to carry out a useful five years. Schiaparelli is expected to land at Meridani Planum about three days before TGO arrives on Mars. He will only work for a short time on the surface before his batteries sit down.