The European Space Agency announced yesterday a significant milestone in the development of the next Mars mission: the core module of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has been delivered to Thales Alenia. The core module consists of the structure, thermal control, and propulsion systems; a lot of assembly and testing remains before the 2016 launch. It needs electronics, power systems, instruments, telecom, and so on. But it's beginning to look a lot like a spacecraft.
For some reason they didn't release any photos of the spacecraft with the announcement, so I asked for some and quickly received three. I haven't thought much about ExoMars before -- I just don't pay much attention to missions until hardware is being assembled and readied for flight -- so it was a surprise to me how big this thing is.
The three photos I received aren't all that different from each other but since they don't seem to be posted elsewhere I'll share them all here:
Here's some artwork of the spacecraft to compare with the actual photos.
What's next for the Trace Gas Orbiter? It's headed for a launch in 2016. There doesn't appear to be a specific launch date on ESA's website, but the 2016 launch opportunity would be some time around February or March of that year, for an arrival late in 2016 or early in 2017. Let's hope for a non-newsworthy assembly and testing phase!
EDIT: Thanks to ESA's Michael Khan for sharing the following information in the comments: "The launch period for the ExoMars 2016 mission opens on January 7, 2016 and extends until January 27, 2016. Mars arrival is on October 19, 2016. This is different from the launch period for the NASA Insight mission, which also wil be launched in 2016, because Insight, which is a lander craft and does not need to be inserted into Mars orbit, will go on a different type of transfer that is shorter; so its launch window is in March and its arrival is in late September."