Computer glitch blamed for European Mars lander crash

The ESA's Schiaparelli lander had travelled for seven years and 496mn kms (308mn miles) before a computer glitch sent it crashin
The ESA's Schiaparelli lander had travelled for seven years and 496mn kms (308mn miles) before a computer glitch sent it crashing onto the surface of Mars
A tiny lander that crashed on Mars last month flew into the Red Planet at 540 kilometres (335 miles) per hour instead of gently gliding to a stop, after a computer misjudged its altitude, scientists said.

Schiaparelli was on a test-run for a future rover meant to seek out evidence of life, past or present, but it fell silent seconds before its scheduled touchdown on October 19.

After trawling through mountains of data, the European Space Agency said Wednesday that while much of the mission went according to plan, a computer that measured the rotation of the lander hit a maximum reading, knocking other calculations off track.

That led the navigation system to think the lander was much lower than it was, causing its parachute and braking thrusters to be deployed prematurely.

"The erroneous information generated an estimated altitude that was negative—that is, below ground level," the ESA said in a statement.

"This in turn successively triggered a premature release of the parachute and the backshell (heat shield), a brief firing of the braking thrusters and finally activation of the on-ground systems as if Schiaparelli had already landed. In reality, the vehicle was still at an altitude of around 3.7 km."

The 230 million-euro ($251-million) Schiaparelli had travelled for seven months and 496 million kilometres (308 million miles) onboard the so-called Trace Gas Orbiter to within a million kilometres of Mars when it set off on its own mission to reach the surface.

After a scorching, supersonic dash through Mars's thin atmosphere, it was supposed to glide gently towards the planet's surface.

The planet Mars as seen by the webcam on the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express orbiter
The planet Mars as seen by the webcam on the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express orbiter

For a safe landing, Schiaparelli had to slow down from a speed of 21,000 kilometres (13,000 miles) per hour to zero, and survive temperatures of more than 1,500 degrees Celsius (2,730 degrees Fahrenheit) generated by atmospheric drag.

It was equipped with a discardable, heat-protective shell to shield it, a parachute and nine thrusters to decelerate, and a crushable structure in its belly to cushion the final impact.

Sniffing for signs of life

The crash was Europe's second failed attempt to reach the alien surface.

The first attempt, in 2003, also ended in disappointment when the British-built Beagle 2 robot lab disappeared without trace after separating from its mothership, Mars Express.

Since the 1960s, more than half of US, Russian and European attempts to operate craft on the Martian surface have failed.

Schiaparelli and the Trace Gas Orbiter comprised phase one of a project dubbed ExoMars through which Europe and Russia are seeking to join the United States in operating a successful rover on the planet.

The next part of the mission is the start of the Trace Gas Orbiter's mission in 2018, sniffing Mars' atmosphere for gases potentially excreted by living organisms.

The crash of the Schiaparelli on Mars in October was the European Space Agency's second failed attempt to reach the alien surfac
The crash of the Schiaparelli on Mars in October was the European Space Agency's second failed attempt to reach the alien surface

The rover will follow, due for launch in 2020, with a drill to search for remains of past life, or evidence of current activity, up to two metres deep.

While life is unlikely to exist on the barren, radiation-blasted surface, scientists say traces of methane in Mars' atmosphere may indicate something is stirring underground—possibly single-celled microbes.

European space officials have insisted that any problems encountered by Schiaparelli were part of the trial-run and would inform the design of the future rover.

"In some ways, we're lucky that this weakness in the navigation system was discovered on the test landing, before the second mission," ESA's Schiaparelli manager Thierry Blancquaert, told AFP.

The ESA said that data gleaned from the instruments aboard Schiaparelli during the entry would help to better understand the Red Planet and especially its atmosphere.

"This is still a very preliminary conclusion," David Parker, ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration, said of Wednesday's findings.

"The full picture will be provided in early 2017 by the future report of an external independent inquiry board," he added.

"But we will have learned much from Schiaparelli that will directly contribute to the second ExoMars mission being developed with our international partners for launch in 2020."


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European craft crashed on Mars, possibly exploded: ESA

© 2016 AFP

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Nov 24, 2016
I guess one software programmer is now without a job.

Nov 24, 2016
I guess one software programmer is now without a job.

I don't think you understand how software is developed.

Nov 24, 2016
Tough business. Entire careers are spent on these projects. The last-second loss must be tragic.

RNP
Nov 24, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Nov 24, 2016
In a fit of rage after bragging he has hacked into my computer, Rumpy has disabled my ability to post in some threads.

Clever. And nasty. And illegal.

What have we become in the age of internet anonymity? Look at otto and Trumpy, misfits with immense grudges, taking down this forum out of a fit of pique.

Nov 24, 2016
@STOLEN VALOR LIAR-kam
Rumpy has disabled my ability to post in some threads
no, i haven't
your own propensity for lies and pseudoscience did that
And illegal
you already threatened to litigate - now all ya gotta do is prove yourself in court

and i never said i *hacked* your computer, you illiterate lying POS troll
you are making an ASSumption

- learn to read

per your request...

Nov 24, 2016
This is a thread regarding the lander, not your inability to control your emotions.

Now I understand why you hide in the woods with a phony name. You are a nasty person who has to hide from his own words. Actions, too, probably.

Can you outgrow it? Fake it, if you have to, for this science site.


Nov 24, 2016
First rule ignore off the scale data, second rule use multiple redundant measurements and have a sanity model that looks at the data.
This is the Ariane 5 mistake: hey I measure an off the scale acceleration, let's switch of the main engines ...

Nov 24, 2016
"But we will have learned much from Schiaparelli that will directly contribute to the second ExoMars mission being developed with our international partners for launch in 2020."

Eh, no, not so. The new lander is a completely different project designed and build within the Soviet ... err .. Russia and uses military grade navigation and thus makes it inaccessible.
It's completion depends only on 1 billion euro that has to be paid by 'Europe' in short notice.

Nov 24, 2016
STOLEN VALOR LIAR-kam
This is a thread regarding the lander
then why did you post off topic stupidity in your "In a fit of rage" post?

i simply responded to your post with factual information - something you have yet to be able to do
phony name
like gkam?
1- still aint phony

2- had you actually read the e-mail where i linked my IAFF/IFSAC certifications to you NOV 2014, then you would see that my call sign was Stumpy, my rank was Truck Captain

so again, not anonymous, not even pseudonymous

3- when you file for Discovery, you will see said information again during the litigation process

feel free to provide evidence, links or references (as i suggested in other NOV 2014 e-mails to you)

until then
per your own request and your lack of evidence, credibility and proven chronic lies ....

Nov 24, 2016
I'm sorry, but that's just shameful code.

Nov 24, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Nov 24, 2016
So, it is true. To totally f**k things up, it does take a computer.
Apparently it's not true for everyone that hindsight is 20/20.

What was true long before computers is still true. "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley" – Robert Burns

Nov 25, 2016
As a guy working closely with software engineers I often feel a tinge of empathy towards the programmer in situations like this. These guys who generally dot all their 'i's and cross their 't's and then one bit gets away from them amidst all the problems they've solved and they're culpable for wasting 7 years, a billion dollars, and many peoples time. The SQA guys have gotta be crushed as well. It hard to look at code again and again and find a problem especially if you don't know there's a problem. The whole thing reminds me a bit of the Climate Orbiter where Lockheed didn't fully abide by the ICD resulting in a loss of the craft. Soul crushing for all involved I'm sure.

Nov 25, 2016
I guess making such a mission safe is a real pain. You don't have the best, fastest processors on a space probe (they don't take radiations well), you can't make the code at your leisure (probably the memory limit was weighting heavily, so they were cramming bits into odd-sized numbers), you can't simply put multiple redundancies on board (they weigh many times their weight in fuel), so you just have to make do with what space you have inside and hope preliminary tests will find all the problems before launch.

Nov 25, 2016
. It hard to look at code again and again and find a problem especially if you don't know there's a problem.

I work closely with software engineers, testers and quality assurance people (in a field where faulty software can mean harm to humans, too). You would not believe the amounts of rounds of testing we go through - based on software that is, at its core, 15-20 years old. Which means it has been going through testing several times per year an we're *still* finding stuff to fix with every new feature added (cross dependencies are nasty).

There is absolutely no way that you can test every eventuality - especially when hardware and environment come into the mix. You can control for hardware somewhat, but when you add in the 'creative' ways users misues a product then you run into a problem:
"If you make something fool proof nature will just invent a better fool"
I guess making such a mission safe is a real pain.

There's no 'safe'. There's only 'safer'

Nov 25, 2016
"Tough business. Entire careers are spent on these projects. The last-second loss must be tragic."

Hillary thought so too.


Nov 25, 2016
"Hillary thought so too."
---------------------------------

There is a big difference between a technical glitch and a malevolent force.

From Putin.

Nov 26, 2016
"Hillary thought so too."
---------------------------------

There is a big difference between a technical glitch and a malevolent force.

From Putin.

Conspiracy!

Couldn't be the voters refused to elect criminals for the White House anymore...

Nov 26, 2016
It is Trump who faces dozens of lawsuits, like the one which just cost him $25,000,000 for defrauding poor folk who had hopes of bettering themselves, . . a complete FRAUD!

And it took Trump, all the Republican crooks and Family Values perverts and Vladi Putin as well as the head of the corrupted FBI to get the "win" for your pussy-grabber.

Meanwhile Trump, no deep thinker, is going to gut our science.

Nov 26, 2016
And it took Trump, all the Republican crooks and Family Values perverts and Vladi Putin as well as the head of the corrupted FBI to get the "win" for your pussy-grabber.

Well, I didn't vote for either as the Amerikan political system is beyond a joke. However, I certainly prefer a supermodel as the first lady than the "hope you didn't notice the "CHANGE"" artist posing as the first male "First Lady". What exactly is OBAMA! grabbing?

http://beforeitsn...390.html

Nov 26, 2016
Computer glitch blamed for European Mars lander crash

Seems as if the Europeans didn't account for the harsh electrical environment the lander was going to be subject to on its journey.

Nov 26, 2016
They failed to ask Nancy Reagan's astrologer for the best time to launch.

Nov 26, 2016
http://www.gq-mag...rections

There you go. Real class. A "First Lady" who has already shown the entire world her naked ass.

Both of them.

Our nation has been trashed by hateful and uneducated goobers, the poorly-educated angry over their life failures.

We will survive this White Trash Tantrum, but it will be costly.

Nov 27, 2016
Hey Gkam, "This is a thread regarding the lander, not your inability to control your emotions.",

sound familiar? Your 6 posts about politics, does that count as a white trash tantrum?

You must really like the first lady, you post that link all over Phys.org. Do they know?

Maybe you're not patriotic enough to be respectful, so your service counts as nothing.

You complain about Putin, Trump, his wife, (and provide photos) Nancy Reagan, the FBI, and call people you have never seen uneducated and hateful.

So who did you say can't control their emotions? Looks like Trump owns you whether you like it or not.

I really like how you put "family values perverts" in the same sentence as " **** grabber", and are just too white trash stupid to see the irony.

Always the dirty old man. Reported.

Nov 27, 2016
Feel better?

Let's see if the second lander works. If they have another failure, they might start looking at the Moon, which would be a great base for developing the technology and materials.

Nov 27, 2016
The Europeans laughed at the US when a metric to standard conversion went wrong on a trip to Mars in 1999. Many pundits declared that it would never happen to European missions because they didn't use two systems.

Well, now the shoe is on the other foot. Unit conversions are difficult to review. It doesn't matter if it is Metric, English, or biblical cubits.

If this were easy, many more would have done it. Better luck next time.

Nov 27, 2016
And another thing: congratulations to ESA for orbiting a new communications and surveillance spacecraft. There will be further spacecraft and I have high hopes that it will work well for them.

Nov 27, 2016
I have to admit, the American re-entry vehicle and aeroshell producing a rocket-powered bedstead holding a rover on cables to descend to the surface is fraught with opportunities for failure. I am impressed beyond these words.

ESA should still be proud of their effort and the chance to learn, with their second rover.

Nov 28, 2016
George kamburoff formula for success:
1) post some outrageous self-serving bullshit lies as bait
2) use the responses to talk about his imaginary education and experience
3) use the additional responses to pretend he's the morally superior one
4) remind everybody they're off-topic without acknowledging that he's the one who derailed the thread to begin with.
5) repeat in 100s of threads for dozens of months
6) giggle at the inability of mods to deal with the machinations of even a garden variety psychopath who enjoys using them as much as he does everybody else

"we can only say that it seems to be that the psychopath ENJOYS making others suffer. Just as normal humans enjoy seeing other people happy, or doing things that make other people smile, the psychopath enjoys the exact opposite."

-Granted it takes a little time to recognize a psychopath and so mods may be excused.

But a dozen people have voiced their disgust with this troll. He should be banned and banned again.

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