Sunday 4 December 2016

Mars calling...Europe waits for proof it has landed on red planet

Geri Moulson Berlin

Published 20/10/2016 | 02:30

An artist’s impression of the Mars probe. Photo: ESA/PA
An artist’s impression of the Mars probe. Photo: ESA/PA

The European Space Agency's (ESA) experimental Schiaparelli probe entered the atmosphere of Mars yesterday, and scientists awaited confirmation that the craft had touched down safely.

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The space probe's mother ship, which will be analysing the atmosphere, went into orbit around the red planet.

Schiaparelli was released from the mother ship, the Trace Gas Orbiter, on Sunday. Scientists said the gentle approach would turn into a six-minute hell ride when the probe plunged into the hot, dusty Martian atmosphere and hurtled toward the surface at 21,000kph.

If all went to plan, Schiaparelli would deploy a parachute and then thrusters to slow to 10kph before hitting the surface.

Don McCoy, the manager of the ExoMars project of which the two craft are part, said some data had been received from the lander confirming its entry and the deployment of its parachute. More information was expected late last night.

"We can't conclude the real status of (Schiaparelli) at the moment but indeed it did enter the atmosphere," McCoy said at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

Landing a spacecraft on Mars is notoriously difficult. Several missions have failed, including the ESA's previous attempt in 2003 with the rover Beagle 2. It made it to Mars but its solar panels didn't unfold properly, preventing it from communicating.

Irish Independent

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