From JPL: “Europe’s New Mars Mission Bringing NASA Radios Along”



March 14, 2016
Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters, Washington

Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters, Washington

NASA Electra UHF relay radios
The European Space Agency’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, launched on March 14, 2016, carries two Electra UHF relay radios provided by NASA. This image shows a step in installation and testing of one of those radios, inside a clean room at Thales Alenia Space, in Cannes, France, in June 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/TAS

ESA ExoMars

Two NASA radios aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars mission that launched today are engineered to provide communication relay service for rovers and landers on Mars.

ESA’s ExoMars 2016 mission, combining the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) with the Schiaparelli landing demonstrator, began a seven-month journey to Mars with today’s launch from Kazakhstan.

ESA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter
Trace Gas Orbiter

ESA Schiaparelli
Schiaparelli landing demonstrator

The twin Electra UHF (ultra-high frequency) radios from NASA are slated for a first in-flight test in about six weeks.

“This partnership with Europe will strengthen and extend the existing infrastructure at the Red Planet for orbiters to support assets on the surface,” said Phillip Barela of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, project manager for NASA’s participation in ExoMars.

NASA is on an ambitious journey to Mars that will include sending humans to the Red Planet. Current and future robotic spacecraft are leading the way and will prepare an infrastructure in advance for human missions.

TGO’s Electra radios use a design from JPL with special features for relaying data from a rover or stationary lander to an orbiter passing overhead. Relay of information from Mars-surface craft to Mars orbiters, then from Mars orbit to Earth, enables receiving much more data from the surface missions than would otherwise be possible.

As an example of Electra capabilities, during a relay session between an Electra on the surface and one on an orbiter, the radios can maximize data volume by actively adjusting the data rate to be 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 (MRO) already use Electra technology for relay of data. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft, in orbit since 2014, also carries an Electra radio.

NASA Mars Curiosity Rover


Due to improvements in the newest Electra radios and reduced interference levels compared with MRO, TGO’s relay radios are expected to have a relay signal about twice as strong as MRO’s. Compared to MAVEN’s highly elongated orbit, TGO has a planned orbit similar to MRO’s relay-favorable orbit at about 250 miles (400 kilometers) in altitude and nearly circular in shape.

TGO’s main X-band radio will use a dish antenna 87 inches (2.2 meters) in diameter to communicate with Earth-based antenna networks operated by ESA, NASA and Russia.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages NASA’s role in the ESA ExoMars program for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more about the ExoMars 2016, visit:

For more information about NASA’s journey to Mars, visit:

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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