ESA confirms Mars craft crash

Identifies landing problem

Paris: The European Space Agency (ESA) has confirmed that the Mars craft has been lost during its landing on the Red Planet. The Schiaparelli spacecraft stopped transmitting about 50 seconds before expected landing on Mars.

After a high-speed, fiery descent through the Martian atmosphere, scientists at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, did not get a signal back from the 577 kg probe.

The gouge in the ground caused by the uncontrolled descent has been imaged by an American satellite. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has identified a large dark patch in the robot’s targeted landing zone consistent with a high-velocity impact.

The data transmitted from the spacecraft indicated that its descent systems did not work properly. Its parachute was jettisoned too early and its retrorockets, designed to slow the robot to hover just above the surface, fired only for a few seconds instead of half a minute.

Engineers continue to analyse the telemetry the probe transmitted through the various phases of its descent before dropping radio contact unexpectedly, about 50 seconds before the anticipated touchdown time.

They want to establish precisely why the parachute and rocket thrusters behaved the way they did. In due course, they hope also to be able to identify the height above the surface that each event occurred.

Ultimately, the investigation should tell us at what stage in the descent sequence Schiaparelli went into freefall — somewhere between two and four km up – and the speed with which it smacked into the ground. This is estimated to be greater than 300kmph.

The mission, a joint venture between ESA’s ExoMars program and the Russian state corporation Roscosmos, was primarily designed to test ESA’s ability to land on Mars.

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