The first half of the ExoMars mission began this week with the launch of the Trace Gas Orbiter from Kazakhstan.
In the hours following Monday’s launch, the probe’s trajectory offered asteroid hunters a chance to test their tracking and imaging technologies. The probe’s exit from Earth’s upper atmosphere and into space was like the approach of a near-Earth object in reverse.
The European Space Agency organized a concerted effort by Southern Hemisphere observatories to identify, track and image the spacecraft. ESA’s Space Debris Office kept NEO-tracking observatories apprised of the probe’s trajectory.
The information allowed astronomers Alison Tripp and Sarah Roberts to capture impressive images of the orbiter using a one meter-diameter telescope in Australia. Scientist Grant Christie at the Stardome Observatory in Auckland, New Zealand, also secured images of the departing spacecraft.
But the clearest images were captured by Brazilian astronomers Daniela Lazzaro and Sergio Silva. One of their photographs reveals the Trace Gas Orbiter surrounded by fragments of the Proton rocket’s discarded upper stage.
The ExoMars probe is now well beyond near Earth, en route to its October rendezvous with Mars.