ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter enters correct orbit but Schiaparelli lander is lost in crash landing

by | Oct 20, 2016 | ESA, exploration, NASA, Russia, Satellites, Science, Technology | 0 comments

The main Russian-launched Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) research element of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ExoMars mission was successfully injected into its planned orbit around Mars. But the “exciting” part of the mission, ESA’s Schiaparelli lander, crashed into oblivion. Entry and descent initially appeared to be going well. Then, during the final landing manoeuvre onto the planet, the lander crashed after its braking engine system ended its burn tens of seconds too early.  It was apparently attempting to make up the required deceleration following a premature separation of the braking parachute and backshell.

A radar-altimeter software error/design issue is suspected as the cause of the failure.

At 1442 GMT, the Schiaparelli lander entered the Martian atmosphere beginning its 5 minute 53 second landing sequence. However, telemetry was lost with the lander 50 seconds before predicted touchdown. This was confirmed by matching signal drops recorded by both the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), India, and the in-orbit Mars Express spacecraft. The telemetry received from Schiaparelli initially indicated that the on-board computer had decided to jettison the parachute earlier than expected. Afterwards the retrorockets designed to slow down the craft before touchdown appeared to fire for only three seconds out of an expected 30-second burn time.

It is now thought that radar-altimeter software timed out, leading the on-board computer system to believe that the flight had landed and so shut off the landing thrusters prematurely. Without these, the Schiaparelli lander thudded into the Martian surface at a speed that made its survival unlikely.

The ESA-technology demonstration lander was intended to provide data to both European parties and the Russian team that will be providing the descent module for the later 2020 ExoMars rover mission. An additional goal for the Schiaparelli mission was to make a European landing on Mars, Europe’s second attempt after the failed Beagle-2 in 2003.

Update 25 October 2016: Imagery taken by the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on 21 and 25 October, using the HiRise camera, appears to show a new dark patch on the surface of the planet and a nearby white element. The black smudge is believed to be the exploded landing craft seen along with its white parachute (and back shell), which landed about 1km south.

ESA was initially unwilling to write off the lander or accept that it had crashed. However, from the telemetry and imagery received, it became certain that a hard impact at a velocity of over 180 miles per hour (300km per hour) on the surface of Mars had destroyed Schiaparelli.

David Todd contributed to this report.

 

About Seradata

Seradata produce the renowned SpaceTrak Launch & Satellite Database. Trusted by 100 of the world’s leading Space organisations, SpaceTrak is a fully queryable database used for market analysis, failure/risk assessment, spectrum analysis and space situational awareness (SSA).

For more information go to www.seradata.com/spacetrak

Related Articles

Schiaparelli Mars crash: it was the IMU what done it!

The cause of the failure of the ESA ExoMars mission's Schiaparelli landing on the planet Mars has been found. It was Read more

Proton M successfully sets ExoMars orbiter and lander on their way to red planet and reports that Breeze M blew up afterwards appear to be incorrect (Updated)

The joint ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars mission to examine the amount and source of methane on Mars has been successfully delivered onto Read more

Blue Origin sues NASA after losing contract for Human Landing System (Updated)

Blue Origin’s disagreement with NASA over its failure to win a contract for the Human Landing System (HLS) finally reached Read more

Cygnus heads for ISS while Starliner remains grounded

Northrop Grumman launched a Cygnus resupply spacecraft on one of its Antares launch vehicles from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Read more

Hubble returns to operations but is on borrowed time

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is back online after a month of downtime due to a malfunctioning payload computer. The Read more

US$178 million Europa Clipper launch is formally awarded to SpaceX Falcon Heavy saving NASA US$2 billion

While NASA's US$4.25 billion Europa Clipper unmanned exploration flyby mission to Jupiter's moon Europa was always mooted as going on Read more

Nauka module limps towards ISS after suffering multiple issues in orbit following successful Proton launch (Updated)

The newest ISS module, known as Nauka, was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, by a Proton M at 1458 GMT Read more

SpaceX launches resupply mission to the ISS carrying first batch of new solar arrays (Updated)

SpaceX successfully launched the Dragon CRS 22 resupply mission to the ISS at 1729 GMT on 3 June from the Read more

Categories

Archives

Tags