According to the European Space Agency, their ExoMars spacecraft failed to land on Mars. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter might have seen Schiaparelli crash place. The communications with the lander were cut roughly 1 minute before the planned touchdown time.
The photos of Schiaparelli crash place show its 39-foot-wide parachute and a big dark spot roughly 50 x 130 foot that might have been created by the spacecraft’s impact. Specialists also suggest there was an explosion that can explain such a big patch.
The explosion is much probably what has happened, as the spacecraft’s thruster tanks were still full. The thrusters didn’t work even half the planned time, and because of this malfunction the lander fell on the Martian surface from the height about 1.2 to 2.5 miles. The speed it was falling at was approximately 186 mph, so the explosion was obvious, as we see on the Schiaparelli crash place photos.
The spot the spacecraft has left is about 3.4 miles to the west from the planned landing site, Meridiani Planum, which is located to the south from the Red Planet’s equator. Schiaparelli crash place is right within the elliptical landing area, so the spacecraft could have completed its mission successfully.
NASA MRO took the image of the site with its low resolution camera. The next time it will try to take a photo with its HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera. The ExoMars mission is still on though. The ESA representatives said that this experience was very useful, even though the lander failed its mission.
The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) the spacecraft was attached to, had its own mission: getting to the Martian orbit. It was trying to do this by conducting an engine burn for 139 minutes, and this part has succeeded. So now ESA has at least this TGO in the orbit, making a full ellipse in 4.2 days.
The device is working perfectly and is about to start calibrating its instruments in November. Starting from the next year, the device will alternate its orbit, changing it from highly elliptical to fully circular, orbiting the Red Planet at the height of 250 miles. The alternation of its orbit will be finished roughly in March of 2018, and after this event TGO will start its 2-year mission.
Its main purpose will be the scientific research of the Martian atmosphere, especially the origin of methane in it. This gas is a potential sign of life, and this is the main reason the scientists are so interested in its origin. Methane can also be emitted by certain geological events, so the team has to be sure about what exactly gives such an amount of methane to the Martian atmosphere.
TGO will become a communication relay for NASA surface device, both Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, as well as for the second part of ExoMars 2020 mission – a life-hunting rover. Then, in 2022, TGO will finish its service for both agencies.
More information on the Schiaparelli crash place and the reasons of the crash will be given later, after the deep analysis of the issue by ESA.