Belgian cutting edge technology to the ExoMars Mission


On 14 March 2016 at 10:31 am, a large part of Belgium held its breath. For several minutes, there was nothing to hear, apart from the noise of the firing of the Proton rocket, which would bring the probe ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) on its way to Mars ... Launch successfull!

TGO carries four scientific instruments on board, among them is the new instrument NOMAD (Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery). NOMAD has been designed, manufactured and tested by the Royal Institute for Space Aeronomy and OIP, the main industrial partner, with the financial support of the Belgian Federal Science Policy, Belspo. NOMAD will search for trace components in the atmosphere of Mars, such as methane, in order to map them. The presence of methane could be an indication of the existence of life, present or past, or geological activity, including volcanism.

NOMAD has three channels: SO (Solar Occultation), LNO (Limb Nadir and solar Occultation) and UVIS, an ultraviolet and visible channel. By making observations in solar occultation, SO will probe the atmosphere in search of methane, observing at the same time other constituents on the atmosphere. While SO detects methane in the atmosphere, LNO will locate its sources on the surface of Mars. This channel indeed carries out nadir observations (by measuring the amount of radiation of the Sun reflected from the surface and scattered by the atmosphere of the planet). The UVIS channel will mostly be used to measure ozone and aerosols, in solar occultation as well as in nadir mode.

TGO is accompanied by Schiaparelli test lander that also carries Belgian contributions : the Royal Observatory of Belgium is involved in AMELIA (Atmospheric March Entry and Landing Investigation and Analysis) and DREAMS (Dust characterization, Risk assessment and Environment Analyzer on the Martian surface). In addition, the Belgian company OIP has also provided the DECA camera (DEscent CAmera) that will take images of the landing.

The TGO journey towards Mars will last for 7 months. On 19 October 2016, the satellite will begin its gradual descent to its final orbit profiting from the friction of the atmosphere of the planet Mars. A process that will take several months before the scientific measurements start mid-2017, for a period of 2 years. The second part of the mission, composed of a rover and platform, will fly to Mars in 2018.