On 19 October 2016, as Europe’s newest Mars mission arrived at the Red Planet, the EJR-Quartz team worked on site at ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, supporting ESA Communications in bringing news in real time to an enthusiastic global audience.
The sheer complexity of the mission’s sequence – separation of the Schiaparelli test lander from the ExoMars/TGO orbiter on 16 October, followed three days later by its entry and descent to the surface while the orbiter conducted a critical orbit-entry manoeuvre – kept the team extremely busy almost around the clock to ensure that ESA’s social media accounts and news channels were updated.
For Twitter, the lead account proved to be @esaoperations, fed with outstanding support direct from the mission control teams with minute-to-minute updates on TGO orbit-entry progress, activities in the Main Control Room and in-space support from Mars Express, as well as news from the experimental yet highly successful ground tracking campaign.
A number of dedicated accounts – including @esa, @ESA_TGO, @ESA_EDM and @esascience – provided the wider context, ensuring that the mission’s scientific and exploration goals were communicated to curious citizens across Europe and the world.
The arrival of TGO was a text-book-perfect demonstration of how to fly a spacecraft around an alien planet. Unfortunately, the Schiaparelli test module didn’t survive landing, but it did return substantial engineering data during its descent, which will enable a full reconstruction of what happened. Space is hard – and getting to Mars is harder!
The on-site team were supported by other EJR-Quartzers and colleagues across ESA’s communication and graphics teams to ensure that the full family of ESA social media channels were kept updated throughout, including Facebook, Google+, Flickr, YouTube and Instagram. This coordinated teamwork extended across other channels, covering the main ESA Portal and exploration.esa.int, serving the science community with in depth info. Our ESA country desk colleagues were equally busy ensuring coverage in other languages.
The effort paid off handsomely: Twitter alone generated well over 1,000,000,000 (!!) timeline deliveries against the #ExoMars hashtag, while traffic to ESA’s web and blog channels was similarly tremendous.
Perhaps most importantly, the EJR-Quartz team in Darmstadt had a fabulous time learning about this ambitious mission and meeting the dedicated experts making it happen. You can’t communicate about a topic with passion, depth and accuracy until you’ve understood it yourself!
The EJR-Quartz editorial team in Darmstadt included Daniel Scuka (Operations), Dr. Emily Baldwin and Dr. Karen O’Flaherty (Science), Erica Rolfe, (chief online publisher) and Maria Bennett (chief social media publisher).