Cause Of Schiaparelli Lander Crash Revealed

Posted: May 25 2017, 3:19pm CDT | by , Updated: May 25 2017, 10:24pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Cause of Schiaparelli Lander Crash Revealed
Schiaparelli with parachute deployed. Credit: ESA

Unexpectedly high spin combined with many other causes led to Mars probe's crash landing.

The results of the investigation into the Schiaparelli lander crash have finally been revealed and they confirm that miscalculations by onboard computers led to the demise of the European Space Agency’s Mars lander.

Schiaparelli lander was expected to land on Mars surface in October last year as a part of ExoMars mission when it suddenly lost communications just seconds before its planned touchdown. That disruption made researchers believe that the lander is crashed into the Mars surface while its companion – the Trace Gas Orbiter – safely entered the planet's orbit.

The preliminary investigations revealed that the onboard computer assigned to measure the rotation of the lander mistakenly thought that it was much closer to the surface – jettisoning its parachute and prematurely shutting down its landing engines. In reality, the lander was still approximately 3.7 km above Mars. The result was that the lander was crashed into the Mars surface. With the destruction of Schiaparelli, the mission had to end prematurely.

The latest report confirms most of the details already released in the preliminary findings and adds that “unexpected high rotation rates” contributed to the conflicting information in onboard computer.

The investigation not only identifies the circumstances and the root causes of the Schiaparelli crash but also make recommendations to avoid such defects and failures in the future.

“There were clearly a number of areas that should have been given more attention in the preparation, validation and verification of the entry, descent and landing system,” said David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration.

“We will take the lessons learned with us as we continue to prepare for the ExoMars 2020 rover and surface platform mission. Landing on Mars is an unforgiving challenge but one that we must meet to achieve our ultimate goals.”

ExoMars 2020 is a joint venture between ESA and Russia’s space agency Roscosmos. As a part of the mission, Schiaparelli was launched together with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter in March 2016. Schiaparelli's primary role was to test whether they could successfully send a rover to Mars in 2020. Three days before reaching the atmosphere of Mars, on 16 October, Schiaparelli was ejected from the Orbiter towards Mars but the lander crashed during the final stages of its descent. The orbiter, however, successfully reached Mars' orbit in October last year.

TGO will search for evidence of signature gases in Martian atmosphere, such as methane. The data will help prepare for the 2020 mission to Mars. The mission will run through till 2022.

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