What Happened To Schiaparelli?

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That was awful; I totally understand. But, the question is a valid one; what did happen to ESA’s Schiaparelli EDM lander? A surveillance operation of the wreckage has been ongoing and involved NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which managed to take some high-resolution snaps of the crash site.


What was the Schiaparelli EDM lander?

The European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Schiaparelli lander was a test craft that was designed to study landing on Mars. It was fitted with new descent technology, being field tested for future missions to the red planet. It also contained some scientific instruments designed to test atmospheric electricity on Mars. I would add that it was made in Italy and should have been as reliable as a Fiat.

What was supposed to happen?

The craft was supposed to land, meet up with Curiosity and make friends (that would be awesome). Actually it was supposed to land in Meridiani Planum, a Martian plain well known to anyone hoping to land a vehicle on Mars for its flat, steady environment. It was then due to perform some experiments and generally saunter around the area, hoping to make new discoveries, a bit like myself when I visit a new city.


What went wrong?

Well that is what everyone is trying to figure out. Last week, a blurry image was captured that purported to be the wreckage of the lander and its parachute. The parachute was located around a mile away from the lander and heat shields were also located a little way from the crash site.  The exact details are still fairly mysterious as to what happened and how it all fits together. ESA revealed that they believed the vehicle was coming in vertically when the thrusters switched off. This, however, doesn’t really match up with the layout of the debris as it looks more like an asteroid hit the ground at an angle. Some have said that an explosion in one of the propellant tanks may have caused the crash and the debris arrangement. This would explain another strange feature found nearby; a long dark arc that looks like unused fuel, but this would require further investigation.

The teams behind the operation are working hard to gather the data sent back from the mothership, the imaginatively named Trace Gas Orbiter and other orbiters in the vicinity. They know that the mission started well. The craft reached the planet after a 7 month journey, on 16th October. The descent then started well, before a series of errors happened in the final stage.

It was like a first date that started extremely well. You got the flowers, you booked the expensive restaurant and even made her laugh a few times. But, when the time had come to seal the deal; you vomited over her dress. In the last few moments, the parachute deployed early, as did the heat shields and the thruster burn for just a few seconds instead of 30. So far the signs point to a software error. They think the onboard computer had a little mix-up with space and time, like a really bad version of the TARDIS, and then executed all the commands in the wrong order.

It’s too close to know what happened for sure just yet. ESA have stated that they expect a comprehensive review completed by the end of November.

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