esa / exomars
ESA Exomars 2016

In the current scenario, Mars has garnered immense attention and has become the most favorable destination for expedition by space agencies. Today, European Space Agency and Roscosmos were about to take a baby step and land a probe on the surface of the Red planet. But the european scientists seem to have completely lost contact with the Schiaparelli lander mere seconds, 50 to be exact, before it was supposed to touch down.

An official statement released by ESA suggests that “the module had successfully completed most steps of its 6-minute descent through the martian atmosphere.” These steps include deceleration through the atmosphere, deployment of parachutes and heat shields, among several other steps.

The descent has been confirmed using radio signals captured by GMRT, an experimental telescope array located near Pune and from orbit by ESA’s Mars Express. The space ageny has also partially analysed the collected data and confirmed the successful descent. It suggests that the Mars lander followed commands fed into the orbiter and successfully completed the crucial ‘Mars Orbit Insertion’ manoeuvre, but the events post this moment might have to the unfateful demise of the rover. ESA has found some unexpected descrepencies that might be bad news for this mission.

The space agency believes that the ejection of heat shield and parachute occured earlier than expected and the thrusters also activated for a brief period of time. But, the evidence suggests that they switched off sooner than expected and couldn’t slow down the lander. Thus, this ‘could’ have led the rover to crash land and scatter on the surface of Mars. The orbiter, which dispatched the module, has already completed two overflights of the Red Planet, but still hasn’t received back any signal from the landing location, says Spacecraft Operations Manager Andrea Accomazzo.

Though the European and Russain space agencies might have lost the disc-shaped 577-kg Schiaparelli lander, they have been able to secure essential data transmitted to its mothership Trace Gas Orbiter during the descent. One cannot also discard this mission as a complete failure because of it being a part of a test for European landing technologies for the planned Exobiologist for Mars(ExoMars) mission in 2020. This would be their second attempt to make contact with the Red Planet without crashing.

In terms of the Schiaparelli test module, we have data coming back that allow us to fully understand the steps that did occur, and why the soft landing did not occur. 

From the engineering standpoint, it’s what we want from a test, and we have extremely valuable data to work with. We will have an enquiry board to dig deeper into the data and we cannot speculate further at this time.

says David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration.

European Space Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency might have lost a valuable resource in the form of Schiaparelli lander, but they still have the Trace Gas Orbiter which is currently in orbit around the red planet. Researchers will still continue to use the same to scout for the lost rover and study the atmosphere of the planet.

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