A NASA radio aboard European Space Agency's (ESA's) ExoMars/Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) has successfully performed in its first relay test. Data from NASA rovers Opportunity and Curiosity has successfully reached the Earth, the US space agency said on Wednesday.
One of the twin Electra radios on the orbiter has received the transmissions from the two active NASA rovers on Mars. NASA says this development marks a strengthening of the international telecommunications network supporting Mars exploration.
The main radio of Trace Gas Orbiter for communications with Earth subsequently relayed onward to the planet the data received by Electra.
"The arrival of ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars, with its NASA-provided Electra relay payload on board, represents a significant step forward in our Mars relay capabilities," said Chad Edwards from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
The ESA’s ExoMars/Trace Gas Orbiter landed on the red planet on October 19, 2016.
"We now have a truly international Mars relay network that will greatly increase the amount of data that future Mars landers and rovers can return from the surface of the Red Planet," Edwards said.
In its ambitious journey to Mars, NASA has plans to send humans to the red planet. Current and future robotic spacecraft will prepare an infrastructure in advance for human missions in the future.
The JPL-designed Electra radios have 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 the Mars orbiters to Earth, enables receiving much more data from the surface missions than would be possible with a direct-to-Earth radio link from the rovers or landers, NASA said.