NASA radio delivered for Europe's 2016 Mars orbiter

July 8, 2014 by Guy Webster
The European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, being assembled in France for a 2016 launch, will carry two Electra UHF relay radios provided by NASA. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/TAS

( —The first of two NASA Electra radios that will fly aboard the European Space Agency's next mission to Mars has been delivered for installation onto the ESA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO).

The TGO is being assembled at Thales Alenia Space, in Cannes, France, for a 2016 launch opportunity. It will study the Martian atmosphere for the presence of methane and other gases that may be present in small concentrations. It will also deploy the ESA Schiaparelli Mars landing demonstration craft and provide communications support for ESA ExoMars Rover and a Russian Lander planned for launch in 2018.

Twin Electra ultra-high frequency (UHF) radios on the TGO will provide communication links with robots on the Martian surface—rovers or landers. Relay of information from Mars-surface craft to Mars orbiters, then from Mars to Earth, enables receiving much more data from the surface missions than would otherwise be possible.

"We are fortifying our partnership with Europe to strengthen the Mars relay network together," said Phillip Barela of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, project manager for NASA's participation in ExoMars.

The Electra radio design from JPL includes special features for relay use between an orbiter and a rover or stationary lander. For example, it can actively adjust the data rate during a communication session—slower when the orbiter is near the horizon from the surface robot's perspective, faster when it is overhead.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter already use Electra technology for relay of data. A NASA orbiter currently on the way to Mars, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft, also carries an Electra radio. Plans call for the TGO to use its Electra radios for communication with ESA's 2018 ExoMars Rover and Russia's Lander as well as with NASA's 2016 Mars lander and 2020 Mars . The first Electra radio for the TGO was delivered June 17, 2014. The second is on track for delivery in September.

The planned orbit for the TGO is an advantageous one for providing relay duty. It is similar to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's at about 250 miles (400 kilometers) in altitude and nearly circular in shape. The mission will make use of Earth-based radio antenna networks operated by ESA, NASA and Russia.

Explore further: Mars Odyssey orbiter repositioned to phone home Mars landing

Related Stories

ExoMars 2016 set to complete construction

June 18, 2013

ESA's mission to Mars in 2016 has entered the final stage of construction with the signature of a contract today with Thales Alenia Space at the Paris Air & Space Show.

Mars orbiter images rover and tracks in Gale Crater

January 9, 2014

( —NASA's Curiosity Mars rover and its recent tracks from driving in Gale Crater appear in an image taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter ...

ExoMars orbiter core module completed

February 4, 2014

( —The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter module consisting of the spacecraft structure, thermal control and propulsion systems was handed over by OHB System to Thales Alenia Space France at a ceremony held in Bremen, Germany, ...

Recommended for you

Hubble captures a galactic waltz

November 26, 2015

This curious galaxy—only known by the seemingly random jumble of letters and numbers 2MASX J16270254+4328340—has been captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope dancing the crazed dance of a galactic merger. The ...

The hottest white dwarf in the Galaxy

November 25, 2015

Astronomers at the Universities of Tübingen and Potsdam have identified the hottest white dwarf ever discovered in our Galaxy. With a temperature of 250,000 degrees Celsius, this dying star at the outskirts of the Milky ...

A blue, neptune-size exoplanet around a red dwarf star

November 25, 2015

A team of astronomers have used the LCOGT network to detect light scattered by tiny particles (called Rayleigh scattering), through the atmosphere of a Neptune-size transiting exoplanet. This suggests a blue sky on this world ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jul 08, 2014
It's great that we're developing and using standardized frequencies and systems on these satellites. It improves the situation for everyone. I'm curious how many of these probes you'd need in order to get 24/7 communications coverage over the whole planet.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.