NASA spacecraft eyes remains of ESA’s Schiaparelli lander
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) confirmed the ExoMars team’s worst fears by photographing recently added features on the surface of Mars at Meridiani Planum believed to have been created by a crash landing of Europe’s Schiaparelli test lander. The demonstrator entered Mars’ atmosphere at Mars Oct. 19. All seemed to be going well until the signal cut off about 50 seconds before its planned touchdown.
The new images show a bright spot consistent with Schiaparelli’s 39-foot-wide (12 meters) parachute, and a 50-by-130-foot (15 by 40 meters) dark spot thought to be the aftermath of a high-speed impact by the lander after a much longer free fall than was planned. This was caused by the thrusters prematurely switching off. The image was taken by the low-resolution Context Camera (CTX) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and can be seen here: Schiaparelli
The location information gained from acquiring the CTX image will be used for imaging the site with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s other camera, the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). These images will then be analyzed by European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA researchers for information about the sequence of events on Schiaparelli’s landing attempt. These could possibly supplement data transmitted from the test module during its descent.
The location of the bright spot which is being interpreted as the parachute is located at 353.79 degrees east longitude, 2.07 degrees south latitude. It closely matches ESA’s calculation for the landing location based on landing-day data. This is within the planned landing ellipse and about 3.3 miles (5.4 kilometers) west of the center of the landing target, ESA officials said.
Schiaparelli’s main task was to prove the technologies required to get the ExoMars 2020 rover on the ground safely in 2021. ESA officials have said that Schiaparelli’s descent through the Martian atmosphere will be useful in this respect, even though the probe didn’t survive the landing.
While Schiaparelli was hurtling through the Martian atmosphere on Wednesday morning, the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) was executing a 139-minute, crucial engine burn to place into orbit around the Red Planet. This latter maneuver was successful, and the TGO is now circling the planet every 4.2 days on a highly elliptical path, ESA officials said.
If everything goes as it is currently planned, starting in 2017, the orbiter will investigate concentrations of methane and other trace gases in Mars’ atmosphere and provide relay communications capability for landers and rovers on the surface. Before this happens, the TGO will use the planet’s atmosphere to gradually circularize its orbit, a process known as aerobraking.
Built by Lockheed Martin and costing an estimated $720 million, MRO was launched on August 12, 2005, and entered into orbit above the surface of the Red Planet in March of 2006.
Video courtesy of ESA
Eric Shear is a recent graduate from York University, honors bachelor in space science. Before that, Shear studied mechanical engineering at Tacoma Community College. During this time, Shear helped develop the HYDROS water-electrolysis propulsion system at Tethers Unlimited and led a microgravity experiment on the Weightless Wonder parabolic aircraft. Shear has worked for an extended period of time to both enable and promote space flight awareness. Shear agreed to contribute to SpaceFlight Insider’s efforts so that he could provide extra insight into interplanetary missions, both past and present.