With all signs pointing to a hard landing and a failed robot, it appears that the role of Pune-based Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in monitoring the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Schiaparelli rover on the surface of Mars, came to an end on Friday.
“It is for the ESA to declare whether it was a partial success or not, but it does seem so. The GMRT’s role was limited to monitoring the Schiaparelli entry and descent module from the parent spacecraft, which was successfully monitored on October 16 and 19, respectively. Though we did try to get the signal after that, we were not able to receive and we communicated this. It is unlikely that the ESA will request for more slots from GMRT to monitor the probe,” said Yashwant Gupta, dean, GMRT.
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The ExoMars mission of ESA aims to land a probe on the surface of Mars and study the planet’s properties. GMRT, on request from NASA, was acting as the receiver station on Earth during the EDM, which is a crucial phase of the mission. It was one of only two agencies in the world tracking the mission.
While on October 19, GMRT successfully detected first weak radio signals emitted by the probe during separation, the team had another success when it detected UHF radio signals emitted by the probe as it made its descent through the Martian atmosphere.
“The initial discussion was that if the landing is successful, GMRT will continue to track the data to see if it is working properly and alive. But since there were no positive results on October 20, monitoring has been called off. The good news is that Schiaparelli was only one part of the ExoMars mission as the parent spaceship is successfully inserted into the Martian atmosphere and is working. However, the role of GMRT was limited to monitoring signals from the probe only,” added Gupta.
GMRT was selected for the job by the ESA due to the high sensitivity of the radio telescope. “The signal, at a frequency of 401 MHz, is very weak and emitted by a 5W transmitter on the EDM. To detect such weak signals, it requires high sensitivity and interference free environment offered by GMRT,” said Gupta.
Gupta raised the possibility of future international collaborations as well.
“In 2018, NASA is launching a mission and we feel confident that GMRT an play a role. Also, the Phase 2 of ExoMars will happen in 2020. The question before ESA now is if they want to send the final mission or an intermediate one, after working on the issues confronted in this mission,” he said.
“We received an email from ESA stating they are happy with GMRT’s role and if the conditions are favourable, maybe we will collaborate again,” he said.