Europe’s Mars craft goes missing
- Falls silent before touchdown
Paris: An initial analysis of Europe’s second Mars craft suggests the latest lander may have plummeted to its demise. If it is true, this would be the second failed attempt by Europe to reach Mars surface.
The lander named Schiaparelli, was on a test run for a future rover to look out for evidence of life, past or present, on the Red Planet.
Schiaparelli, a joint European-Russian project, fell silent just seconds before its scheduled touchdown, while its mothership Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) entered Mars orbit as planned.
“We are not in a position yet to determine the dynamic condition at which the lander touched the ground,” European Space Agency (ESA) head of solar and planetary missions Andrea Accomazzo told a webcast news briefing at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.
“Further analysis of some 600 megabytes of data has to be done to know whether it survived structurally or not,” he said. This could take “some time”, Accomazzo added.
ESA and NASA Mars orbiters, meanwhile, were keeping their eyes and ears open for any signal from the lander that went silent suddenly.
If not, this would be Europe’s second failed Mars landing in a row, joining a string of unsuccessful attempts by global powers to explore our planetary neighbour’s hostile surface.
While holding out faint hope, ground controllers said it seemed the paddling pool-sized lander’s parachute may have been discarded too early, and its fall-breaking thrusters switched off too soon.
The $251-million Schiaparelli had travelled for seven years and 496 million km onboard the TGO to within a million km of Mars on Sunday, when it set off on its own mission to reach the surface.