Photos show European Mars probe crashed, may have exploded (Update)

October 21, 2016 by Frank Jordans
A rendering of the Schiaparelli Space Module and of the planet Mars is displayed on a movie screen during an event organized by Italy's Space Agency on the occasion of the insertion of the Trace Gas Orbiter into orbit around Mars, and the landing of Schiaparelli module on the surface of of the planet, in Rome, Friday, Oct. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Europe's experimental Mars probe hit the right spot—but at the wrong speed—and may have ended up in a fiery ball of rocket fuel when it struck the surface, scientists said Friday.

Pictures taken by a NASA satellite show a black spot in the area where the Schiaparelli lander was meant to touch down Wednesday, the European Space Agency said. The images end two days of speculation following the probe's unexpected radio silence less than a minute before the planned landing.

"Estimates are that Schiaparelli dropped from a height of between 2 and 4 kilometers (1.4-2.4 miles), therefore impacting at a considerable speed, greater than 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph)," the agency said.

It said the large disturbance captured in the NASA photographs may have been caused by the probe's steep crash-landing, which would have sprayed matter around like a blast site on Earth.

"It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact, as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full," the agency said.

Schiaparelli was designed to test technology for a more ambitious European Mars landing in 2020. The European Space Agency said the probe's mother ship was successfully placed into orbit Wednesday and will soon begin analyzing the Martian atmosphere in search for evidence of life.

"In my heart, of course I'm sad that we couldn't land softly on the surface of Mars," ESA chief Jan Woerner told The Associated Press. "But the main part of the mission is the science that will be done by the orbiter."

Woerner said engineers received a wealth of data from the lander before the crash that will prove valuable for the next attempt in four years' time. He described the mission as "a 96 percent success."

Italian Space Agency President Roberto Battiston holds a pamphlet reading in Italian 'Colonize Mars, Friday, Oct. 19, 2016, in front of a rendering showing the Schiaparelli Space Module and the planet Mars as they follow during an event organized by Italy's Space Agency, the insertion of the Trace Gas Orbiter into orbit around Mars, and the landing of the Schiaparelli module on the surface of the planet. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Still, the crash-landing was a painful reminder of how hard it is to put a spacecraft on the surface of the red planet.

Its resting place was photographed by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which also spotted Europe's last ill-fated mission to the surface of the planet. The Beagle 2 probe landed on Mars in 2003 but failed to deploy its solar panels properly, preventing it from functioning.

There have only been seven successful robotic landings on Mars, all by NASA. The last landing was in 2012, when the Curiosity rover touched down in a Martian crater.

Landing on Mars is notoriously difficult because of the planet's thin, dusty atmosphere. Inbound spacecraft hit the atmosphere at 12,000 mph (19,300 kph) and have only minutes to slow down and land.

With the loss of Schiaparelli, only two spacecraft are currently roaming the Martian surface—Curiosity and Opportunity, which landed in 2004.

ESA said that, according to what its scientists have been able to piece together so far, Schiaparelli suffered problems during the last 50 seconds of its descent through the harsh Martian atmosphere.

The picture taken by NASA's orbiter shows two features that weren't visible on the surface when the spacecraft photographed the area in May. The first is a bright spot of about 12 meters diameter, likely to be Schiaparelli's parachute, ESA said.

The second was described as "a fuzzy dark patch roughly 15 by 40 meters in size and about 1 kilometer north of the parachute" and is likely to be the lander.

A model of Schiaparelli· the mars landing device , is on display at the European Space Agency, ESA, in Darmstadt, Germany Wednesday Oct. 19, 2016. Schiaparelli will enter the martian atmosphere at an altitude of about 121 km and a speed of nearly 21 000 km/h. Less than six minutes later it will have landed on Mars. The probe will take images of Mars and conduct scientific measurements on the surface, but its main purpose is to test technology for a future European Mars rover. Schiaparelli's mother ship ,TGO, will remain in orbit to analyze gases in the Martian atmosphere to help answer whether there is or was life on Mars, ( Uwe Anspach/dpa via AP)

"These preliminary interpretations will be refined following further analysis" and a high-resolution picture in the coming days, the agency said.

While Schiaparelli was able to beam back some 600 megabytes of data before the crash, scientists won't get any of the close-up photos the probe took during its descent. Those were meant to be transmitted after the landing.

ESA said the other part of the ExoMars mission—the Trace Gas Orbiter—was "working very well and will take science calibration data during two orbits in November."

The spacecraft will then descend to an altitude of about 400 kilometers and begin its study of Mars next year. The orbiter is also going to act as a radio relay for the next stage of the ExoMars mission and other future attempts to land on the planet.

Explore further: Experimental European Mars probe set for landing on Mars (Update)

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51 comments

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Landrew
4.2 / 5 (10) Oct 21, 2016
Exploded they say? Was it carrying Samsung batteries?
jonnyrox
1.4 / 5 (9) Oct 22, 2016
NASA might not be worthwhile any longer but at least They usually manage to send back some pictures !
HTK
1.6 / 5 (14) Oct 22, 2016
useless europeans...
BartV
1.8 / 5 (10) Oct 22, 2016
NASA is so successful because have an almost unlimited budget. Other countries try to scrape by with 1/10 or less of the budget.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (12) Oct 22, 2016
Let's see you do something, BartV, and other critics.
freeiam
not rated yet Oct 22, 2016
So this seems consistent with a hard start of one of the engines 50 seconds before landing ...
freeiam
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 22, 2016
HTK: "useless Europeans ..."
Your right this feels pretty useless, especially when declared a 95% success.
tear88
5 / 5 (8) Oct 22, 2016
What a shame. I hope the Europeans don't let it stop them from trying something similar in the future.
Phys1
5 / 5 (6) Oct 22, 2016
Where are the photo's promised in the title?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (9) Oct 22, 2016
Well, the main thing for the lander was...to land. The batteries on board were only designed to keep it running for a couple of hours after that, so there's not much lost in the way of science. As they say: the main science is in the orbiter on this mission.
But the landing was supposed to be a dry run for the rover to be launched next. That needs to be pushed back for another lander test or carefully redesigned depending on whether the cause of the failure can be established.

carbon_unit
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 22, 2016
Where are the photo's promised in the title?
Yeah, they could have at least linked to
http://phys.org/n...lli.html
Phys1
4.6 / 5 (11) Oct 22, 2016
useless europeans...

Don't be such a Trump.
freeiam
5 / 5 (1) Oct 22, 2016
Well, the main thing for the lander was...to land. The batteries on board were only designed to keep it running for a couple of hours after that, so there's not much lost in the way of science. As they say: the main science is in the orbiter on this mission.
But the landing was supposed to be a dry run for the rover to be launched next. That needs to be pushed back for another lander test or carefully redesigned depending on whether the cause of the failure can be established.


That's the story, but in realty it's a "broodje aap" (as we say in holland), the next lander is already designed and in production in Russia and cannot be altered much.
It's also difficult to get acces to the project because it uses military grade navigation stuff, so in reality the esa has to submit 300 million dollars and otherwise shut up.
So no follow up on the Italian build lander and no fix for its technology.
Russia also lanuches the next mission instead of Ariane Space ...
freeiam
1.7 / 5 (6) Oct 22, 2016
... Europe gains nothing and has to pay for it all.
So it all is one huge CF from taxpayers money.
freeiam
2.7 / 5 (3) Oct 22, 2016
... Europe gains nothing and has to pay for it all.
So it all is one huge CF payed with taxpayers money.


Not to mention the ultimate goal of the mission: search for life, wow.
By the time they get there they do find it, but it's Musk grinning from ear to ear.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.5 / 5 (4) Oct 22, 2016
It crashed because it was ugly.
But the landing was supposed to be a dry run for the rover to be launched next. That needs to be pushed back for another lander test or carefully redesigned depending on whether the cause of the failure can be established
In the future standard commercial vehicles based on proven designs will be purchased or leased to deliver science packages, rather than having to design these things from scratch.
rrrander
2 / 5 (8) Oct 23, 2016
The EU. Too many cooks and typical socialist screw-ups. This is what happens when you feel absolutely no responsibility to get something done right, because you can always go back to the omnipresent STATE for another try. If you read the book, "Skunkworks" you see how complex tasks can be done correctly, in-time and on or below budget.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (8) Oct 23, 2016
Too many cooks and typical socialist screw-ups. This is what happens when you feel absolutely no responsibility to get something done right, because you can always go back to the omnipresent STATE for another try.

The amount of ignorance in this post is just staggering.
Phys1
5 / 5 (6) Oct 23, 2016
Indeed, rrrander is an absolute nutcase.
freeiam
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2016
How did they test the Italian lander, I cannot find any reference to a real life drop down test (say from 50000 meters or so) which uses the engines and navigation to make a save landing here on earth.
I sincerely hope I missed that item online, does anyone have a link?
Kedas
3 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2016
It was a test but the only thing bothering me is that it failed at an altitude that could probably be tested on earth. (I know the atmosphere is not the same but still)
All the things they couldn't test went correctly.
Only the 'simple' obvious went wrong. Landing based on controlled trust is child play (like a drone toy you can buy).

optical
Oct 23, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2016
The amount of ignorance in this post is just staggering.


Don't talk without checking yourself.

The ESA operates on about a quarter of the money compared to NASA, and it has much more organizational overhead because it's comprised of 22 different member-states. It's simply bogged down by bureaucracy.

They're trying to "play fair" with all the contributing members, so the science and the parts for the missions are delegated all over the union, to universities and research centers and other "politically expedient" institutions of varying prestige rather than buying from established and proven aerospace specialists. In other words, the quality varies a lot, part by part and mission by mission.

For the important parts that absolutely need to work, roughly speaking, the launch system is controlled by the French, the mission control by the Germans. This duo is responsible for most of the budget as well.
Phys1
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2016
@Eikka
1/3 is closer.
The Trumpish rrrant was out of place.
This was a test and tests may fail.
However why was a lander test needed?
There have been successful landings of similar vessels.
Was this a new landing procedure?
Anyone?
Mark Thomas
4.5 / 5 (8) Oct 23, 2016
NASA is so successful because have an almost unlimited budget.


God in heaven I wish that was even a little bit true. If it was, NASA astronauts, and probably ESA astronauts too, would be investigating on the surface of Mars right now. NASA's current budget is roughly one half of one percent of the total U.S. federal budget.

For all the nasty commenters, keep in mind that every success on Mars helps us all and every failure on Mars hurts us all. We need all the momentum we can build to get people to Mars.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2016
@Eikka
1/3 is closer.


Not after Brexit. With UK out of the union, it falls on France and Germany to run all the basic functions of ESA.

The rest are paying the membership fees, and get the occasional contract to build something in return. That is to say, they have to occasinally let eg. Romania design and build parts for the missions or they'll get upset and pull off.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2016
Germany and France together contribute 47% of ESA funding, and the UK does 9.9%. With the UK money out, G+F share will bump to 52%

Though they probably won't quit their ESA membership entirely, because then they'd have no guaranteed access to space. Either way, counting by the main ingredient, it's going to be a frog and cabbage soup anyhow.
optical
Oct 23, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Mark Thomas
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2016
Optical, the exploration of space is about more than just amazing scientific discoveries and great pictures, it is about expanding and improving human existence. To do that, we need to get out there in person and take advantage of the materials, energy (at least sunshine) and potentially developable real estate. Mars is our best opportunity for colonizing another planet. Mars is the low hanging fruit for so many reasons, not the least of which is a nearly 24 hour day which plants and people are so well adapted to. A day on the moon lasts nearly one of our months. At anywhere near our level of technology, Mars is the only planet we have even a colorable chance of terraforming. My personal guess is the second planet to be terraformed will be outside of our solar system. People may someday terraform the moon and Venus, but that will be a technological tour de force for a society that might view Star Trek as old fashioned and quaint.
optical
Oct 23, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
optical
Oct 23, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
optical
Oct 23, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2016
It was UGLY. Look at the picture. It looks like it already crashed. It looks like the inside of a decent American lander. It looks like a chromium deep dish pizza with chromium everything on it.
Lex Talonis
5 / 5 (1) Oct 24, 2016
Actually they made it miss Marrs entirely, because there was no Youtuber there to film the crash and upload it....

Science people, science
Lex Talonis
5 / 5 (2) Oct 24, 2016
It was UGLY. Look at the picture. It looks like it already crashed. It looks like the inside of a decent American lander. It looks like a chromium deep dish pizza with chromium everything on it.


It looks like the inside of your ugly chrome plated head more like it.
Lex Talonis
5 / 5 (1) Oct 24, 2016
Hitting the ground at 300Kmh, with full tanks of rocket fuel?

What could possibly go wrong?,

freeiam
not rated yet Oct 24, 2016
Hitting the ground at 300Kmh, with full tanks of rocket fuel?

What could possibly go wrong?,



It did have a carbon fiber cushion, so it was designed to take a hit, it wasn't designed to take a blast though.
freeiam
4 / 5 (4) Oct 24, 2016
Mark, Mars is literally freezing cold, your lucky if it's above minus 20 Celsius and its minus 150 or more if your unlucky, it's completely inhospitable no air to speak of (only CO2 at one 100 th the pressure on earth), no water - only if you heat large amounts of gravel and rock, you get a drop) and magnetized dust so fine that any mechanism will get to a grinding halt.
You also have almost no light, it's energy is a 1/4 per m2 and compares to a very faint sun through a thick fog here on earth.
Also, exploration of Mars could be a very good excuse to fuck up our planet like we do now and replace that by a fridge.
freeiam
1 / 5 (1) Oct 24, 2016
Phys1, the last esa lander had no thrusters and landed via parachutes and a set of big gummy balls, so no info on thrusters at that pressure and also no info on air pressure, temperature etc. because this lander failed.
freeiam
1 / 5 (1) Oct 24, 2016
Phys1, they could of course ask our NASA friends, but apparently this info costs a lot or isn't for sale.
Mark Thomas
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 24, 2016
freiam, the Dutch have an expression, "God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland." In a general sense, that is terraforming. Are you saying it is impossible to improve conditions on Mars? It seems like we are doing a fine job warming up Earth without even trying. By the way, you have a math error in the strength of sunlight at Mars, it is closer to 1/2 on average than 1/4, because you overestimate the distance from Mars to the sun.

https://en.wikipe...Sunlight

optical wrote, "the proponents of clueless exploration are the most active opponents of cold fusion research." So optical's position is we should give up the (clueless) exploration of space in favor of cold fusion. I can only urge you to consider other viewpoints, especially from folks with degrees and jobs in science and engineering, but based on experience, I don't expect that to happen.
freeiam
not rated yet Oct 24, 2016
Mark, Mars is twice the distance and light energy is quadratic, so a rough estimate is 1/4, I read that because of the earth atmosphere (of which Mars cannot speak of) it's less on the earth surface and relatively more on Mars, but still less than a half and the rest of the energy is used to heat the earth atmosphere so that still counts).
My point was that the sun is a tiny dot and has almost no power on Mars, People will hate it I think and it can be compared to living far in the north when you have eternal sun but it's far far away and extremely cold.
My point being that (deliberate) nativity about the circumstances on Mars is 'criminal'.

I think it's arrogant to think you can terraform Mars when your able to build a few small dikes, and the Dutch never use that expression, maybe only when they are asked or speaking to foreigners or do a commercial.

I seriously doubt we could build something sustainable and livable on Mars. The bootstrap phase is to difficult and to costly.
freeiam
not rated yet Oct 24, 2016
Funding will stop when a few accidents happen and it will probably mean that several bootstraps are needed and the end result will probably be a Mars prison, nothing to look out for.
Terraforming is even further out, our current climate knowledge is far too little (and far too late) to enable us to do something sensible, we can only try this or try that and probably create some runaway effect ending up with a second Venus.
So no, actually I don't think we can do that, especially not when we are underestimating the problems and being arrogant and ignorant at the same time.
Anyway, this little lander proves my point (as an Euorpean I rooted for its success though).
Mark Thomas
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 24, 2016
freeiam, math can be very persuasive if applied correctly. I think you agree the intensity of sunlight varies with the inverse square of distance. According to Google, the average distance of Earth from the sun is about 93.0 million miles (150 million km) and the average distance of Mars from the sun is about 141.6 million miles (About 227.9 million km). On average, Mars is about 52% further, not 100% further. So 1/1.52^2 = 0.43, meaning the sunlight is roughly 43% as strong on Mars. This does vary, mostly because of Mars's elliptical orbit. https://en.wikipe...iki/Mars

About terraforming being ignorant and arrogant, I completely disagree. Bringing life to the dead surface (probably) of another world is among the most honorable things a person could ever do. Not only would this benefit the human race as a whole, but it will ensure the survival of all the plants and animals we take with us.
Mark Thomas
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 24, 2016
"Anyway, this little lander proves my point (as an European I rooted for its success though)"

As an enlightened American, I rooted for its success too. I also refuse to believe we will never visit any of the ~1 trillion planets in the Milky Way besides Earth. On the contrary, the journey has barely begun.
freeiam
not rated yet Oct 25, 2016
freeiam, math can be very persuasive if applied correctly. I think you agree the intensity of sunlight varies with the inverse square of distance. According to Google, the average distance of Earth from the sun is about 93.0 million miles (150 million km) and the average distance of Mars from the sun is about 141.6 million miles (About 227.9 million km). On average, Mars is about 52% further, not 100% further. So 1/1.52^2 = 0.43, meaning the sunlight is roughly 43% as strong on Mars. This does vary, mostly because of Mars's elliptical orbit. https://en.wikipe...iki/Mars


Mark, my 'calculation' was a rough estimate not an exact calculation (you do that if your reasonably 'fluent' in math), I made that clear, and as such quite sufficient.
The point is, as I stated two times before, Mars isn't a bright place, its dark to human eyes and has no energy to speak of, you will freeze at any moment without protection (after dying from lack of air of course).
freeiam
not rated yet Oct 25, 2016
freeiam,
About terraforming being ignorant and arrogant, I completely disagree. Bringing life to the dead surface (probably) of another world is among the most honorable things a person could ever do. Not only would this benefit the human race as a whole, but it will ensure the survival of all the plants and animals we take with us.


Your reading skills are lacking, I didn't state at all that 'terraforming in itself is ignorant and arrogant', I stated that its arrogant to think that you can terraform with current knowledge and current little achievements (like building a few dikes).
Survival of animals is a good thing, but I rather see them flourish on Earth in the right environment and see most habitat returned (to them) and Earth human population kept in check (about a billion is max. I think) and most places on earth out of bounds for human settlement.
Going to Mars won't help, it will just be another small zoo completely at the end of anyones agenda.
freeiam
not rated yet Oct 25, 2016
"Anyway, this little lander proves my point (as an European I rooted for its success though)"

As an enlightened American, I rooted for its success too. I also refuse to believe we will never visit any of the ~1 trillion planets in the Milky Way besides Earth. On the contrary, the journey has barely begun.


Your enlightened, I'm happy for you. SpaceX endeavours make me cheer too, although they cheer 'America America'.

Visiting another star is even more out of bounds than making a permanent self sustaining habitat on Mars. I never stated thats impossible, but instead that being arrogant and ignorant (by ignoring the facts) will not help in that direction.
Mark Thomas
1 / 5 (1) Oct 25, 2016
freeiam, you seem to want it all laid out as to exactly how we will advance step by step to the stars. That would be nice, but is not required. The key thing is to remember is "a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step." We took a step going to the moon, now it is time to take another step and go to Mars.

About Mars being too dark, you are being ridiculous. At 43% of full sunlight strength on Earth that would be only a hazy day in the middle of summer or maybe a cloudless day in winter in a temperate zone. I haven't done exact calculations.

There are ways to start to terraform Mars that might be easier than you imagine, such as by deflecting a few comets into the polar caps to thicken the atmosphere enough so pressure suits are no longer required. Instead of trying to find reasons for doing nothing, try to find solutions to allow society to move forward. There are a trillion planets in the Milky Way. We have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Oct 25, 2016
Seriously it looks like a transformer took a dump.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Oct 26, 2016
Thats transformer as in large alien robot. Took a dump. haha.

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