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Is it Over? ExoMars Schiaparelli Lander May Have Been Destroyed When It Landed Mars

Oct 21, 2016 04:57 AM EDT
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This is what it's like to spend eight months on Mars

On Sunday, the ExoMars Schiaparelli successfully separated from the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) to begin its Mars expedition, part of a joint European-Russian quest to find evidence of life on the Red Planet. The 577-kilogram spacecraft was supposed to land Mars' surface on Wednesday, October 19, 10:48 a.m. EDT (1448 GMT). But until now, it seems quite likely that the ExoMars Schiaparelli did not have a soft landing.

Space.com noted that the European Space Agency (ESA) has announced on Thursdat that they lost contact with the spacecraft a minute before its touchdown. The space agency is still trying to figure out what happened, but according to several reports today, lander might have crashed onto the Martian surface.

ZME Science reported that the landing was supposed to be cushioned by 30 seconds of rocket thrust. However, it seems that the thrust only worked for a few seconds, resulting to an uncontrolled landing. The report also added that the parachute and rear heat shield detached the top too soon.

The Schiaparelli lander is designed to exhibit the European Space Agency's (ESA) entry, descent, and landing technologies. It will also help monitor aspects of Martian weather, specifically the dust wind phenomena in the Red Planet.

Asked whether the lander had survived the crash, European Space Agency (ESA) head of solar and planetary missions Andrea Accomazzo told a webcast press briefing at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany said:

"We are not in a position yet to determine the dynamic condition at which the lander touched the ground."

Further analysis of data sent by Schiaparelli before its signal died needs to be done.

Meanwhile, the ExoMars team is confident that the spacecraft has collected enough information before it started its uncontrolled descent and that they are hoping that they can retrieve the data back for the planned 2020 launch of a life-hunting ExoMars rover.

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