Friday 24 January 2020

Lost on Mars: fears for future mission funding after probe 'crash-lands'

An illustration of the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli craft on Mars. Photo: ESA
An illustration of the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli craft on Mars. Photo: ESA

Sarah Knapton London

The European space probe Schiaparelli may have crash- landed on Mars after suffering problems releasing its parachute and firing retrorockets to slow its descent, it emerged yesterday.

At a briefing, the European Space Agency (ESA) said there had been technical failings in the final 30 seconds before landing.

Schiaparelli's touchdown was supposed to prove that the ESA had the capability to land on Mars ahead of the second part of the ExoMars mission to place a rover on the Red Planet in 2020, which will drill into the surface searching for signs of life.

But there were fears that the problems could impact on future funding.

ESA spacecraft operations manager Andrea Accomazzo said everything had gone to plan for the first five-and-a-half minutes of descent, but then events "diverged from what was expected" during ejection of the parachute and heat shield.

The parachute should have released at an altitude of 4,000ft before thrusters fired to slow the craft down from 240kph to 4kph.

But data suggested the parachute had been jettisoned too early. Although thrusters did fire to slow the descent, they did not burn for as long as expected, which could also have left the craft hurtling towards the ground at high speed.

The ESA is hoping its orbiter will take a picture of the landing site.

"We need to find out if it could have survived structurally or not," Mr Accomazzo added.

In Nasa's 1999 Mars Polar Lander mission, the retrorockets fired too early at the same stage, causing the spacecraft to crash-land. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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