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ESA: 1-Second Measurement Glitch Caused Mars Schiaparelli Lander Crash

Nov 24, 2016 02:44 AM EST
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The European Space Agency blames an inaccurate single-second inertial measurement for the unfortunate crash landing of its Schiaparelli lander on Mars last Oct. 19.

In its Nov. 23 statement, ESA explained that the saturation reading from Schiaparelli's inertial measurement unit lasted only a second, but was enough to mess up with the navigation system.

"[T]he erroneous information generated an estimated altitude that was negative. That is, below ground level. This in turn successively triggered a premature release of the parachute and the back shell, a brief firing of the braking thrusters and finally activation of the on-ground systems as if Schiaparelli had already landed. In reality, the vehicle was still at an altitude of around 3.7 kilometers," the space agency said.

ESA officials, however, assured that despite its demise, the Schiaparelli lander has successfully transmitted a significant amount of data upon entry into the Mars' atmosphere.

According to ESA's director of human spaceflight and robotic exploration, David Parker, ExoMars teams are still sifting through the voluminous data harvest from the Schiaparelli mission, and that an external, independent board of inquiry, now being created, would release a final report in early 2017.

Despite the known fact that it wasn't designed to survive on the Red Planet, the Schiaparelli incident, which is the second half of the ExoMars program, brought bad rap to the space agency and triggered concerns about ESA not being able source sufficient funding, 300 million euros (or $330 million), necessary for its 2020 mission with Russia.

On the other hand, space agencies from other Russia and Europe still expressed support for the ExoMars project. Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, confirmed that it would push through with the 2020 mission with ESA. The Italian Space Agency (ASI), which os ExoMars's lead sponsor, also said that the fate of the Schiaparelli lander has not dimmed its enthusiasm for ExoMars and that it would finance its expected 40 percent of the ExoMars package, Space News reports.

In an official statement, ASI President Roberto Battiston said, "ExoMars is extremely important for European science and exploration. Together with all the participating states in the program, we will work towards the successful completion of the second ExoMars mission."

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