An ice-filled, Martian crater is visible in the first images beamed to Earth from the new orbit of the ExoMars mission – supported by the UK Space Agency and Open University.
The image taken by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter from 400km above the surface clearly shows the rim of an ice-filled crater called Korolev, which is located at a high latitude in the northern hemisphere of the planet.
ExoMars is a joint mission between the European Space Agency and Roscosmos. It comprises the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which launched in 2016, and the ExoMars Rover which is currently being built by Airbus in Stevenage ahead of its launch in 2020.
The UK Space Agency has contributed €287 million to the overall ExoMars mission and €14 million to the instruments over 13 years, making it the second largest European contributor after Italy. The funding includes £370,000 for the Open University to work on the spacecraft’s instrument operations.
The ExoMars spacecraft arrived in orbit 400 km above the Red Planet a few weeks ago. The camera system, known as CaSSIS (Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System) activated on 20 March in preparation for the start of its main mission on 28 April.
Dr Manish Patel, from the Open University, a member of the CaSSIS science team working on the instrument operations, said:
The images that CaSSIS is beginning to return are simply fantastic. To see the quality of the colour in these first images is a testament to the hard work of the CaSSIS team in getting the instrument to Mars on TGO.
This image heralds the start of a great mission. CaSSIS has proven it is going to generate plenty of exciting images over the mission duration and provide a major step forward in our understanding of the seasonal cycles at work on Mars.
The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) is studying martian atmospheric trace gases and their sources in unprecedented detail. It will help us understand the source of the methane in Mars’ atmosphere and whether it is from a geological or biological source, and provide data relay services for future landed missions.
The image is a composite of three images in different colours that were taken almost simultaneously by CaSSIS on 15 April. They were then assembled to produce this colour view.
The orbiter’s camera is one of four instruments onboard the Trace Gas Orbiter, which also hosts two spectrometer suites and a neutron detector.