By: Fungnam N.
Image taken by MRO showing a crater in Mars, made by the crash of the Schiaparelli probe.
The Schiaparelli Probe, created from a combined European-Russian effort, lost contact with Earth on October 19, a mere 50 seconds before its expected land on Mars. Officials from both ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA now say that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has taken pictures of the crash site. The probe’s rocket thrusters and parachutes, both made to ensure the probe landed relatively safely on the red planet, failed to properly function, and officials say that the probe landed at near terminal velocity. The impact left a small crater on the planet, and the failed parachute could also be seen as a white mass about a kilometer south of the crash site.
The probe was part of the ExoMars program, a joint effort between ESA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos. Roscosmos and ESA had signed a contract together in 2009, beginning their work together. The first part of the project was to land an atmospheric probe on Mars and to release the Schiaparelli probe, a stationary lander. The second part, to be launched in 2020, would involve sending a rover onto the red planet and search for biosignatures of any Martian life, be it past or present.
How the Schiaparelli was supposed to land. Credit:ESA/TLG medialab.
On October 19, the Schiaparelli probe began its descent onto Mars’ surface. However, connection was lost less than a minute before the expected landing. ESA’s spacecraft operations manager, Andrea Accomazzo, stated in a press conference on the 20th that while the parachutes and heat shield worked, the parachutes were deployed too early. The rocket thrusters were fired for only 3 seconds out of the planned 30 seconds, causing the probe to begin plummeting at 300 km/h, from a height between two and four kilometers. The Schiaparelli finally struck the ground about 50 km away from Opportunity, a rover stationed a few kilometers south of Mars’ equator.
Even though the Schiaparelli probe crashed, many representatives from ESA think that the operation was a success. Much information was gathered on the landing technology, and how further improvements could be made on the European technology used. Up to 600 megabytes of data was collected from the lander before its crash, and the fact that scientists could collect data from it even after its crash is an achievement in itself. Of course, while that doesn’t change the fact that the lander did not land, but crashed, the recovery of all that data will help to guide future missions.