ESA’s Schiaparelli mission did not behave as expected as it headed down to the surface of Mars on October 19.
According to telemetry data recovered from the probe during its descent, Schiaparelli’s parachute was jettisoned too early.
The rockets it was supposed to use to bring itself to a standstill just above the ground also appeared to fire for too short a time.
The ESA has not yet conceded that the lander crashed but the mood is not positive.
Experts will continue to analyze the data and they may also try to call out to Schiaparelli in the blind hope that it is actually sitting on the Red Planet intact.
In addition, the Americans will use one of their satellites at Mars to image the targeted landing zone to see if they can detect any hardware. Although, the chances are slim because the probe is small.
For the moment, all ESA has to work with is the relatively large volume of engineering data Schiaparelli managed to transmit back to the “mothership” that dropped it off at Mars – the Trace Gas Orbiter.
This shows that everything was fine as the probe entered the atmosphere.
Schiaparelli’s heatshield appeared to do the job of slowing the craft, and the parachute opened as expected to further decelerate the robot.
But it is at the end of the parachute phase that the data indicates unusual behavior.
The European Space Agency’s probe Schiaparelli was supposed to land on Mars on October 19.
The ExoMars mission was hoping to land the module at 3:48PM BST, but no signal from it has been received so far.
The Schiaparelli lander is named after the 19th century Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli. He was born on March, 14, 1835, 181 years to the very day before the launch of the mission that bears his name.
A radio transmission that should have allowed scientists to follow the probe to the surface was not received.
Image source ESA
Controllers hope that satellites in orbit at Mars will have detected it and will shortly be able to confirm that the probe got down safely.
Landing on Mars is always a daunting prospect.
It is a high-speed approach that has to be got just right or the spacecraft runs the risk of crashing into the ground.
Schiaparelli had a heatshield, a parachute and rocket thrusters to try to get itself to the surface intact.
The ESA will not be rushed to judgement on whether this mission has been a success or a failure.
It will wait on the reports of the satellites. Both European and American orbiters were tasked with tracking the event.
If Schiaparelli is later confirmed as down and safe, it will spend the next few days making measurements of the Martian environment and current weather conditions – at least until its batteries run out.
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