The ExoMars-2016 Trace Gas Orbiter is maneuvered into place above the launch vehicle adapter and secured into position on Jan. 5, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: ESA
Pre-launch processing of the Schiaparelli lander in Baikonur on January 19, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: ESA
Processing of the Schiaparelli lander on Feb. 1, 2016, soon after its fueling with hazardous propellant. Click to enlarge. Credit: ESA
A specialist from Airbus Defense and Space (Aquitaine) places an insulation tile on the back shell of Schiaparelli. Click to enlarge. Credit: ESA
The Schiaparelli lander is integrated with the TGO spacecraft on Feb. 12, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: ESA
Fueling of the TGO orbiter in Baikonur on Feb. 23, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: ESA
ExoMars-2016 is being integrated with its Briz-M upper stage on Feb. 29, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: ESA
ExoMars-2016 is rotated in horizontal position on March 2, 2016, in preparation for encapsulation under Proton's payload fairing. Click to enlarge. Credit: ESA
The upper composite of the ExoMars-2016 spacecraft on a railway trailer being prepared for integration with Proton rocket. Click to enlarge. Credit: ESA
Click to enlarge. Credit: ESA
Proton with ExoMars-2016 is installed in vertical position on its launch pad on March 11, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
|ExoMars-2016 boards its rocket
An international team of engineers in Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, is finishing preparations for the historic launch of the ExoMars mission on March 14, 2016. Following their arrival to the launch site at the end of 2015, the Trace Gas Orbiter, TGO, and the Schiaparelli lander were tested, put together and will join their Proton rocket in the first week of March.
By the end of January 2016, an army of around 65 people assembled in Baikonur to conduct final assembly and testing of the ExoMars-2016 mission before its launch. The team included engineers from the project's prime contractor at French and Italian divisions of Thales Alenia Space, as well as specialists responsible for mission's scientific instruments. Russian engineers were working on the integration of the spacecraft with the launch vehicle. The ExoMars-2016 launch campaign was expected to cost Russia 776.3 million rubles, including 239.9 rubles in 2015 and 536.4 rubles in 2016.
The pre-launch processing was briefly interrupted for a Proton launch with the Eutelsat-9B communications satellite on Jan. 30, 2016. Because ExoMars would require a great deal of time and space at Facility 92A-50, no other Proton missions were planned within a month and a half leading to the opening of the window to Mars on March 14.
The TGO processing included communications checks between all spacecraft components and its four instruments. The Russian-built FREND instrument had to be replaced with a backup model, due to problems discovered several months earlier.
Prior to fueling of the TGO spacecraft with its toxic and highly corrosive propellant, the vehicle's fueling plumbing was filled with helium to ensure absence of leaks. Subsequent checks with a special mass spectrometer detected no helium escaping from any valves.
The TGO's batteries were then charged, the final sheets of thermal insulation installed and, after final inspection, it was ready for integration with the lander.
Although the orbiter for the ExoMars-2016 mission was being prepared inside a processing hall of Facility 92A-50, which guaranteed clean-room environment at level ISO-8, it was not enough for Schiaparelli. Because the lander was designed to reach the surface of Mars, it had to be free of not just dust but even bacteria or microbes, which could have a chance to multiple on another planet.
A special tent for super-sterile operations at clean-room level ISO-7 was set up inside the processing hall. A specialized microbiological laboratory from Turin, Italy, was also set up next to the facility to ensure that the lander was completely sterile.
Once Schiaparelli was brought inside its "clean room within a clean room," its clamshell capsule was split into a front heat shield and a back shell. The lander could now be taken out for the installation of a special gas generator, which would be used for the opening of the parachute during the descent in the Martian atmosphere. The ship's explosive bolts, which would separate the heat shield during landing were also checked.
The spacecraft also undergone electric and leak checks. Engineers also uploaded the final version of the software into Schiaparelli's computers and charged its batteries. The fueling of the lander was conducted between January 28 and January 31.
During the first half of February, specialists from the Airbus Defense and Space team glued most of the thermal protective tiles on the back shell of Schiaparelli's heat shield.
The lander was finally attached to the top of the spacecraft on February 12, and the next day, all the electrical connections between the two spacecraft were made, allowing to start functional checks, which continued until February 15.
Between February 14 and 17, last three tiles were glued to Schiaparelli. Although most of the tiles had been placed and sealed a week earlier, a few places on the heat shield had remained 'open' since these were the sites of hooks for the equipment that is used to lift Schiaparelli into place on the TGO. With this task completed the hooks could be removed and the final tiles placed and sealed. (The bonding of the tiles requires some days to allow the bonding agent to cure before the final, finishing touches can be applied.)
On February 21, the fueling of the TGO began with 2.5 tons of propellant. The propellants for the spacecraft were procured from Gerling Holz in Germany and had to be brought by ship to St Petersburg in Russia, and then by train to Baikonur.
Preparing mission control
While the TGO and Schiaparelli spacecraft were undergoing final checkout and assembly in Baikonur, the training at ESA's ground control center, ESOC, in Darmstadt, Germany, had also entered its final stage after many months of preparations. According to ESA, more than 20 simulation sessions had been completed at ESOC since November 2015, rehearsing various stages of the mission, focusing on launch, early orbits, the initial commissioning and cruise to Mars
The final integration of the ExoMars-2016 with the launch vehicle began on February 29. The fully assembled and fueled TGO/Schiaparelli stack will be first placed on top of the Briz-M upper stage, which would act as a space tug during the launch, conducting four maneuvers to enter Mars-bound trajectory.
On March 2, the payload section including the upper stage and the spacecraft was rotated into a horizontal position and specialists completed flight control and telemetry systems checks of the joint spacecraft, Roskosmos said. On the same day, the payload section was also enclosed between the two halves of the Proton's payload fairing. Until March 4, engineers will be conducting electric and pneumatic tests on the vehicle.
On March 9, the fully assembled launch vehicle and the spacecraft left the assembly building for the outdoor fueling station, where Briz-M tanks will be filled with hypergolic propellants and pressurized gases during the next two days.
Next day, the mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, along with ESA personnel in Baikonur conducted an eight-hour dress rehearsal for the ExoMars launch. According to ESA, controllers established a live data connection with TGO on top of the Proton rocket in Baikonur, and could receive telemetry and other status data from the spacecraft, which was also undergoing its own preflight software loading and countdown rehearsal. Representatives from Thales Alenia Space also participated in the exercise.
On March 13, ESA engineers in Baikonur charged batteries onboard the TGO spacecraft on the launch pad and final checks on the Schiaparelli lander were also conducted successfully in preparations for launch.
On the same day, around 21:15 GMT (5:15 p.m. EDT) ground controllers at the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, established a communications link with Baikonur and began monitoring operations with the ExoMars at the launch site via telemetry. The TGO spacecraft sitting on top of its Proton rocket was powered up for launch around 15 minutes later or just 12 hours before its scheduled liftoff. The batteries onboard TGO were fully charged 10 hours 48 minutes before launch.
At T-10 hours 25 minutes before launch, the TGO was expected to be in its flight configuration and eight hours 40 minutes before launch engineers were scheduled to check computer memory onboard TGO in a process known as "memory dump."
ExoMars mission pre-launch processing chronology in 2016:
January 5: The TGO orbiter attached to a composite structure of the launch vehicle adapter.
January 7: The TGO orbiter moves into the fueling area inside Facility 92A-50 for initial leak tests.
January 7, 20:00 GMT - January 27: The first (21-day) launch window to Mars opens. (Not used)
January 28-31: The fueling of the Schiaparelli lander is conducted in Baikonur.
February 12: A Proton rocket for the ExoMars-2016 mission arrives at Baikonur's Site 92A-50 for the pre-launch processing.
February 12: The Schiaparelli lander is integrated with the Trace Gas Orbiter.
February 17: Sealing of the Schiaparelli's heat shield is completed and the assembled spacecraft makes radio-contact with its mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.
February 21: The TGO fueling begins in Baikonur.
February 29: The TGO/Schiaparelli stack to be integrated with its Briz-M upper stage.
March 2: A payload section is encapsulated under payload fairing.
March 5: The ExoMars-2016 spacecraft composite to be integrated with its Proton launch vehicle.
March 9: The Proton-M rocket with ExoMars-2016 spacecraft left Facility 92A-50 and rolled to the Briz-M fueling station in Baikonur.
March 11: The Proton-M launch vehicle with ExoMars-2016 to roll out to launch pad at Site 200.
March 12: ESA personnel conducts final rehearsals.
March 13: Final checks on the Schiaparelli lander completed.
March 14, 09:31:42 UTC: ExoMars-2016 liftoff.
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Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: May 12, 2016
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