The European Space Agency’s ExoMars orbiter has finally sent its first images of Mars’ landscape.
ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, commonly known as the ExoMars Orbiter, has returned the first images of the Red Planet from its latest orbit.
The spacecraft reached Mars a couple of weeks ago and made a near-circular 400 km altitude orbit. The craft’s primary goal is to search for gases that could potentially be related to any active geological or biological activities on Mars.
Among the first photos sent back by the orbiter is a mesmerizing colored view of the Korolev Crater‘s icy rim. The crater view is said to be a composite of three images taken on April 15th during the testing phase of the orbiter’s Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) camera.
The CaSSIS camera is set to begin its actual scientific surveying work on April 28th.
“We transmitted new software to the instrument at the start of the test phase, and after a couple of minor issues, the instrument is in good health and ready to work,” Nicolas Thomas, the camera’s principal investigator, added.
“We are excited to finally be starting collecting data at Mars with this phenomenal spacecraft,” Håkan Svedhem, an ESA TGO project scientist, said in a statement. “The test images we have seen so far certainly set the bar high.”
According to ESA, it will still take a long period of data collection to bring out the details of Mars’ atmosphere.
“Trace gases, as hinted at from their name, are only present in very small amounts: that is, less than one percent of the volume of the planet’s atmosphere. In particular, the orbiter will seek evidence of methane and other gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological activity,” the agency said.
TGO is a part of ESA’s ExoMars project with assistance from the Russian federal space agency. The orbiter was launched together with a landing demonstrator called Schiaparelli which was designed to test the needed tech for the ExoMars rover. The latter is scheduled to be launched in 2020.