Glitch Caused Mars Lander to Plummet 2.3 Miles

It thought it had landed, but it was mid-air
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 24, 2016 5:15 PM CST
Glitch Caused Mars Lander to Plummet 2.3 Miles
This Oct. 25, 2016 image annotated and provided by NASA shows the area where the European Space Agency's Schiaparelli test lander reached the surface of Mars.   (NASA via AP)

(Newser) – The European Space Agency's Mars lander ended up as a smudge on the red planet's surface because of what Gizmodo calls a "crazy miscalculation." According to a report released by the ESA, the Schiaparelli lander had deployed its parachute and was descending normally when the device that measured how fast it was spinning sent erroneous information to the navigation system that led it to conclude that it was below the surface of the planet. The lander, believing it must have landed, ditched its parachute, fired its braking thrusters, activated its on-ground systems—and then plummeted 2.3 miles to the ground.

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The ESA says the glitch in the Inertial Measurement Unit was a momentary one, reports Reuters. The glitch also occurred during computer simulations of the response to the erroneous information, which should make the problem easy to identify, the ESA says. Schiaparelli was supposed to be testing technology for a 2020 ESA Mars landing and while its mission was much, much shorter than anticipated, the agency says it still picked up some readings from the Martian atmosphere that will be passed to science teams. "We will have learned much from Schiaparelli that will directly contribute to the second ExoMars mission," says ESA Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration David Parker. (Six scientists recently completed a year in a Mars simulation.)

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