Plenty Went Wrong With ESA's Mars Lander
Schiaparelli probably fell a half-mile or more
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 20, 2016 9:21 AM CDT
Schiaparelli's landing wasn't quite as smooth as expected.   (ESA/ATG-medialab via AP)

(Newser) – The Schiaparelli spacecraft that tried to land on Mars Wednesday is probably dead or badly injured, the European Space Agency confirmed Thursday. It's placing the blame on a problem with the lander's parachute, reports CNN. "The ejection itself appears to have occurred earlier than expected," which caused nine thrusters to activate too soon, the agency says. The thrusters were meant to activate 30 seconds before landing in order to soften the impact, but they stopped working after only three or four seconds, the agency says, per the BBC. Schiaparelli's radio signal was lost 19 seconds later—50 seconds before its scheduled landing.

The craft probably fell a half-mile or more before crashing, though an investigation is continuing. "It is important we can learn what happened, in order to prepare for the future," including the planned landing of a rover on Mars in 2021, the ESA's director general says. The agency isn't giving up on Schiaparelli entirely: it plans to "call out" to the lander in the off chance it made it to Mars in one piece, while a NASA satellite will scan the targeted landing area for any sign of the spacecraft. In the meantime, the ESA is celebrating that its Trace Gas Orbiter made it into Mars' orbit, where it will spend four years looking for methane and other potential signs of life.
 

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