DECA (Exomars 2016)

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Zooming in on Mars’ surface during descent


The DEscent CAmera (DECA) on Schiaparelli (ExoMars’ 2016 Entry, Descent & Landing Module) will image the landing site as it approaches the surface, as well as providing a measure of the Martian atmosphere’s transparency and to support the generation of a 3-D topography model of the surface of the landing region for the Exomars 2018 mission.

DECA is the re-named flight spare of the VMC (Visual Monitoring Camera), which flew on the Herschel spacecraft (2009). This VMC camera took stunning images of the Planck-Sylda Composite separation from the Herschel Composite 1150 km above the East coast of Africa.

The DECA is a stand-alone small digital camera with addressable CMOS array detector providing B&W images. The camera objective has a focal length of 6,65 mm, the FOV is 60° x 60° square and it will have the ability to take sharp images between 3m and infinity. This camera has a mass of 0.6 kg, low power consumption of less than 3W (average) and dimensions of about 9 × 9 × 9 cm³, with the ability to capture 15 images at 1,5s intervals and store these in a local memory. After acquisition, the image data can be received from the camera.



DECA is part of the ExoMars2016, a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). The first mission of the ExoMars programme, scheduled to arrive at Mars in 2016, consists of a Trace Gas Orbiter (abbreviated as TGO) plus an Entry, Descent and landing demonstrator Module, known as Schiaparelli (abbreviated as EDM).
(The ExoMars programme consists of 2 mission to be launched resp. in 2016 and 2018. The 2016 mission is a demonstration + scientific mission, whereas the 2018 mission will deliver the rover to Mars.)


is a technology demonstration vehicle carried by the ExoMars TGO to demonstrate the capability of European industry to perform a controlled landing on the surface of Mars.

The DECA camera onboard Schiaperelli will start taking images after the front-shield of Schiaparelli has been jettisoned during the journey through the Martian atmosphere to the planet’s surface. To avoid electrostatic discharges affecting the instrument, there will be a delay of several minutes after Schiaparelli has landed on the surface of Mars, before the data are read out by Schiaparelli's computer and subsequently downlinked to Earth.


ExoMars 2016 Mission Phases Overview

14-25 March 2016

Launch Period

16 October 2016

Schiaparelli – Trace Gas Orbiter separation

19 October 2016

Trace Gas Orbiter insertion into Mars orbit

19 October 2016

Schiaparelli enters Martian atmosphere and lands on the target site

19-23 October 2016

Schiaparelli science operations (not performed)

December 2016

Trace Gas Orbiter changes inclination to science orbit (74°)

Mar 2017 – Mar 2018

Aerobraking phase (TGO lowers its altitude to 400 km orbit)

March 2018

Trace Gas Orbiter science operations begin.

December 2022

End of Trace Gas Orbiter mission


(update 07/12/2016)


Arriving at Mars


Schiaparelli will start its journey to Mars in March 2016 attached to the TGO. They will be launched on a Proton rocket and will arrive approximately 7 months later at Mars.




*Three days before reaching the atmosphere of Mars, Schiaparelli will separate from the Orbiter.

Coast phase

*The module will then coast to Mars during which phase it will remain in hibernation mode in order to reduce its power consumption.


*Schiaparelli will be activated a few hours before entering the atmosphere of Mars, at an altitude of 122.5 km and a speed of approximately 21 000 km/h.



Entry phase

An aerodynamic heatshield will protect Schiaparelli from the severe heat flux and deceleration, so that at an altitude of about 11 km, when the parachute is deployed, it will be travelling at around 1650 km/h.



Descent phase

*The module will first release the front heatshield and then the rear heatshield will also be jettisoned.

*Schiaparelli will turn on its Doppler radar altimeter and velocimeter to locate its position with respect to the Martian surface.




*The liquid propulsion system will be activated to reduce the speed to about 15 km/h when it is 2m above the ground. At that moment the engines will the switched off and the lander will drop to the ground.

Landing phase

*As Schiaparelli lands, the final shock will be cushioned by a crushable structure built into module.


*The primary landing site has been identified: it is a plain known as Meridiani Planum. This area interests scientists because it contains an ancient layer of hematite, an iron oxide that, on Earth, almost always forms in an environment containing liquid water.



Operation phase

A communication link between Schiaparelli and the Trace Gas Orbiter will facilitate the real-time transmission of the most important data measured by the module. The complete set of data acquired will be transmitted to the Orbiter within 8 sols after the landing (a solar day on Mars, or sol, is 24 hours and 37 minutes). The Schiaparelli mission then comes to an end.


DECA was fully designed, built and tested by OIP Sensor Systems, as subcontractor to the former Alcatel-Alenia Space, Cannes, France (currently Thales Alenia Space).

The flight model camera was successfully integrated on the Herschel Composite and provided nice images of the separation.

OIP was responsible for the full development of the Visual monitoring camera (VMC) (PhaseC/D).

ExoMars2016 will be launched on a Proton rocket (by International Launch Service ILS) and will fly to Mars in a composite configuration. By taking advantage of the positioning of Earth and Mars the cruise phase can be limited to about 7 months, with the pair arriving at Mars in October 2016.


Mission :


Destination :


Launch Site :

Baikonur Cosmodrome, Baikonur, Kazakhstan

Launch :

March 14th 2016

Launcher :

Proton Rocket

Spacecraft :

Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO)

Main event :

Investigation of the Martian Atmosphere

Mission Status :

Successfull launched; Schiaparelli separated from TGO
Preparation for landing on Mars (19/10) and Mars Orbit Insertion (19/10) 


(update 18/10/2016)


The flight spare model VMC was provided by Thales Alenia Space to serve as Landing Camera onboard the EDM of ExoMars2016.

The camera was renamed DECA and prepared by the ESA/TAS team to meet the stringent planetary protection requirements, as this camera will land and stay on Mars.

The DECA arrived together with the EDM in Baikonur end December 2015. The EDM was mated for the final time to the TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter, carrying the NOMAD spectrometer) on February 12th, 2016. The Exomars 2016 spacecraft (TGO + EDM). The final functional checks on ground have been carried out mid February.

The TGO and Schiaparelli were successfully launched on March 14th, 2016 and have travelled 500 million kilometers and 7 months to reach their destination: the red Planet.
On October 16th, the Schiaparelli lander was released from the TGO spacecraft.

The TGO spacecraft is being moved in the correct orbit to start the Mars Orbit Insertion maneuvre. The lander is descending in 3 days to Mars, where it will land on October 19th.

The Schiaparelli lander had a less fortunate encounter with Mars than its loyal companion TGO. After a 7 month journey, were all events happened according to plan, the last 40 seconds theory and practice did not match. this resulted in a landing 'anomaly' causing the loss of the lander and its science package with DECA onboard ...


ESA Project

Detlef Koschny, Teamleader Lander Camera, Exomars Project

ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands

ESA Project

Stefan Thürey, Avionics and RF Systems Engineer, Herschel-Planck Project, ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands

Industrial Prime

Yves Pocciola, Project Manager, Thales Alenia Space, France




The EDM is called after Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli, Giovanni Virginio (14 March 1835 – 4 July 1910), an Italian astronomer and science historian, especially known for his studies of Mars. He famously mapped the Red Planet’s surface features in the 19th century.



ESA Exomars website (link)

Official photo (to be added)
DECA leaflet (download


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