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ESA Update on Schiaparelli Crash -- Navigational System Blamed

Nov 25, 2016 04:30 AM EST

The unfortunate crash of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars lander Schiaparelli has baffled scientists and engineers who all worked hard to try and find out what could have caused the lander's demise on Oct. 19. After investigations, ESA concluded that the lander's fate was due to a navigational system failure.

ESA released a report saying that the lander's crash was due to an untimely parachute removal and thruster break that was prematurely turned triggered at about two miles (3.7 kilometers) away from the surface. The lander initiated the thruster break ahead of time due to miscalculation thinking that it had already landed.

"When merged into the navigation system, the 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 a brief firing of the braking thrusters," an ESA official said in a press release.

This erroneous information is apparently vital in the lander's successful touchdown on the red planet. The ground systems aboard the Schiaparelli lander was activated even though the spacecraft hadn't touched down on the surface yet.

Ironically, the Schiaparelli lander, part of ESA's Exomars mission, was deployed to Mars to demonstrate the effectiveness of the new landing system that will pave the way for future Mars landings. But before Schiaparelli was able to demonstrate the landing system aboard the spacecraft, it crashed into the surface of Mars. The Italian contractor for the spacecraft is expected to release a full incident report on the first quarter of 2017.

"This is still a very preliminary conclusion of our technical investigations," David Parker, ESA's director of human spaceflight and robotic exploration, said in a statement. "The full picture will be provided in early 2017 by the future report of an external independent inquiry board, which is now being set up," Parker added.

Although the Schiaparelli lander crashed, ESA still claims that the Exomars mission was a success as the orbiter that was launched together with the lander was successfully placed into orbit. The recent missions to Mars are considered significant due to the upcoming missions to the red planet that aim to send humans to Mars.

The space flight and space explorations community will welcome any proven landing and navigational technology that can keep humans alive during landing.


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