New NASA Images Confirm Schiaparelli’s Demise

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 27, 2016 1:11 pm
schiaparelli-crater

An image of Schiaparelli’s landing site. The dark streaks are consistent with an impact crater. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

The fate of the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander is sealed.

heat-shield

An image of the likely landing place of the heat shield. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

An image taken Tuesday by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveals a series of impact crates strewn about the expected landing zone of the craft, with no sign of the lander itself. The craft’s back shell and parachute appear at the bottom of the image, while the heat shield rests in what appears to be several fragments at top right. A dark crater at the upper left is the only evidence of the craft’s landing.

The picture was taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the orbiter, and shows three impact sites within about a mile of each other. The crater made by the lander is estimated to be about eight feet in diameter and around a foot and a half deep.

An earlier image of the site captured by the Context Camera on NASA’s orbiter showed evidence of a dark crater, but didn’t provide enough detail to draw any firm conclusions. This latest view has achieved a resolution of about 30 centimeters for every pixel, and all but confirms Schiaparelli’s demise.

pia21131_hires

The full image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The back shell and parachute are at bottom left, the heat shield is at top right, and the Schiaparelli crater is at upper left. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

The lander was supposed to make a soft landing on the Martian surface on Oct. 19, using a combination of a heat shield, parachute and rocket thrusters to slow its descent. A probable software error caused the craft to malfunction, jettisoning its parachute too early and firing its thrusters for only three seconds. The result was a free fall from over a mile above the planet, and a landing at around 180 miles per hour — far from a soft landing.

Schiaparelli was still able to return valuable data for the first few minutes of its flight, and the experiment should hopefully provide valuable insights for future missions as well. ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter, which arrived at Mars along with Schiaparelli, is currently functioning as expected.

NASA hopes to have more images of the crash site soon, which should provide a stereo view that would confirm the presence of a crater.

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  • John C

    The Murphy’s Law planet. Imagine what’s going to happen when they try to settle people there.

    • OWilson

      If Darwin is correct, a cabin fever outbreak.

      Look up Brave New World Biosphere 2 Experiment.

      (and that was here, on Earth) :)

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        Antarctica and sub-Antarctic island deployments have personnel going “toast.” Hostile environment plus isolation and no interesting pursuits derail minds.

        Single sex crew? Submariners. Girls and guys? Murder. Desert and steppe nomads are notorious for their stock animal affections.

        • OWilson

          Of course the experimental population will be selected based on our progressive values, aka “who we are as a nation”.

          Diversity is key: gay, straight, lesbian, trans, pre-op, post op, Muslim, Christian, NAMBLA.

          And then lock the doors, stand back, and let ’em have at it!

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Jitter. When you deploy a lander that senses landing, the deployment shakes, rattles, and rolls like hitting ground. Wait a second or few before believing that sensor input. Have softer software decisions. Add a sensor that senses ping distance not acceleration spikes.

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