Today, Mars Express established a communication link with NASA's Curiosity rover (MSL) on the surface of Mars to conduct an important test prior to the arrival of ESA's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), carrying the the ExoMars Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), Schiaparelli, in October.
Curiosity selfie Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
The test saw Curiosity serve as a stand-in (rove-in?) for Schiaparelli on the surface, transmitting a signal to MEX similar to how Schiaparelli will transmit during landing on 19 October. From orbit above, MEX had its lander communication system (Melacom) – with recently updated software – configured as it will be in October, and the orbiter tested receiving signals from below.
Here's the timeline of how today's test went, as programmed; all commands were uploaded in advance and the sequence was executed automatically on board (times in UTC).
2016-06-15 06:22:53.000 - MEX begins to slew to point the radio antenna towards MSL's position on the surface
2016-06-15 06:40:00.000 - Melacom Switches on
2016-06-15 06:55:00.000 - MSL starts transmitting its beacon
2016-06-15 06:55:00.000 - After a 15-minute warm-up, Melacom starts recording the signal from MSL
2016-06-15 07:05:00.000 - Melacom is powered down and the first ...