Radio glitch as Schiaparelli lander probe splits from ExoMars mothership

Signals are flowing again, but for a while there all we had was a Ping!

The European Space Agency's Schiaparelli lander has parted from the Trace Gas Orbiter that was its companion on the ExoMars mission and is on track for its planned Wednesday landing on the red planet. But the European Space Agency is yet to explain a radio glitch that took place along the way.

At 17:02 Central European Summer Time on Sunday the European Space Agency reported that “Flight dynamics team at ESOC (European Space Operations Centre) confirms separation of Schiaparelli from TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) on the basis of Doppler signal from the carrier. The Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) near Pune, India, has also recorded a very faint signal that indicates separation. Official confirmation expected soon when telemetry from TGO is received.”

But at 17:27 mission control posted that “ExoMars Flight Director Michel Denis confirmed that separation of Schiaparelli has occurred and and signals from TGO have been reacquired. The signals do not contain the expected telemetry (information on the onboard status), and the teams are investigating the situation.”

A later update said “TGO unexpectedly did not return telemetry, and sent only its carrier signal, indicating it is operational. The anomaly that prevents TGO's telemetry from being sent is under investigation, and is expected to be resolved within the next few hours.”

And resolved it was: at 18:43 CEST the ESA posted news that “Full telemetry link with ExoMars/TGO has been restored via ESA's 35m deep-space ground station at Malargüe, Argentina.”

Phew.

Or maybe not: the agency is yet to offer an explanation for the glitch.

For now, all is well. TGO is preparing to enter Mars orbit. And Schiaparelli is on a one-way trip to Mars' surface, where its experimental parachute-then-rocket-then-planned-fender-bender landing will take place. ®

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