ExoMars returns first images of new orbit

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has returned the first images of the Red Planet from its new orbit.

The orbiter’s Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System, CaSSIS, took the stunning image, which features part of an impact crater, during the instrument’s test period. The spacecraft arrived in the near-circular 400 km altitude orbit around the planet a few weeks ago. The camera system was activated on 20 March and has been undergoing tests in preparation for the start of its main mission on 28 April.

The example image released today captures a 50 km-wide segment of Korolev Crater, which is located at high northern latitudes. The bright material that can be seen on the rim of the crater is ice.

Scientists from Leicester will be using the images captured by CaSSIS in order to characterise landing sites on the Red Planet in its new orbit.

PhD student Adam Parkes Bowen from the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Space Research Centre, and part of the CaSSIS team, said: “These are the first true colour images taken of Mars from orbit and open up a new view of the Red Planet. These images will be used in landing site selection and characterisation, especially for ExoMars due for launch in 2020.  For instance we will be using them in preparation for the final ExoMars landing  site selection meeting which will be held in Leicester in November. To aid in this effort, CaSSIS is also able to easily take stereo images, allowing 3d models of Mars surface to be created. Currently we are busy planning many of the imaging targets for CaSSIS.”

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.

A long period of data collection will be needed to bring out the details, especially for particularly rare – or not even yet discovered – ingredients in the atmosphere. Trace gases, as hinted at from their name, are only present in very small amounts: that is, less than 1% of the total volume of the planet’s atmosphere. The camera will help to characterise features on the surface that may be related to trace-gases sources.