Officials at the European Space Agency (ESA) announced earlier this week that the Schiaparelli probe and mothership Trace Gas Orbiter would reach their destination soon. However, only one of the spacecraft entered the Martian orbit. No precise information was received from the lander at first, but now officials state that the Schiaparelli probe was severely damaged.
ESA researchers received the news about Schiaparelli’s crash from another spacecraft, from NASA. The landing on Mars was scheduled for October 19, but the research center stopped receiving signals from the probe only one minute before landing. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the American probe which provided the European astronomers with evidence of the fatal crash of their Mars lander.
The NASA photos reveal the parachute of the lander and the potential crash site. Researchers believe that the Schiaparelli probe might have started to decline from two to four kilometers before reaching the Red Planet’s ground. They also think that the impact must have been massive, as the spacecraft had approximately three hundred kilometers per hour.
The European scientists intend to investigate into the crash of the Schiaparelli probe and find out the exact causes that lead to the impact. The photos provided by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have a low resolution and will be converted into high-resolution ones.
Both the Schiaparelli lander and mothership Trace Gas Orbiter are part of a larger project, called ExoMars. The project is run by a partnership between the European Space Agency and specialists from Russia. Their project has several phases, and the mission of the two spacecraft is just a part of it.
Schiaparelli and the Trace Gas Orbiter were launched together this spring. They had separated successfully last week, and researchers were looking forward to both of them reaching their respective destinations. The larger spacecraft was supposed to reach Mars orbit and start gathering information on the gas composition, which it did.
On the other hand, the Schiaparelli probe had a different mission. It was supposed to land on the Red Planet and start collecting data on the soil and climate conditions. It was also meant to function for a short time interval.
The next phase of the ExoMars project is due to 2020. Researchers intend to send a rover on the Red Planet in search for signs of alien life. The spacecraft which were launched this year were also meant to run some tests and make sure that the upcoming mission of the rover is safe. This was one of Schiaparelli’s tasks. Now, scientists have to figure out what to do next.
Image courtesy of: Wikipedia