The European Mars lander, Schiaparelli, was able to travel approximately 300 million miles before coming to a sudden 335 miles per hour stop into our neighboring planet’s surface. After closely analyzing the unfortunate incident, the team of scientists of the European Space Agency managed to better understand the cause of the accident.
As it turns out, a computer glitch is responsible for altering the lander’s estimations only moments before touchdown. It seems that the computer misjudged the rotation of the machine and ultimately corrupted all the other calculations, as well.
As a result, the navigation system perceived the lander to be much lower than its actual position. Hence, the parachute deployed prematurely, sending the Schiaparelli into a 335-miles-per-hour dive into the Martian rock-solid surface.
“The erroneous information generated an estimated altitude that was negative”, states the European Space Agency.
The team has built the $251-million Schiaparelli in hopes of finding alien life or some remnants, at least, on Mars. The project is seven years old, and up until now, the lander has been traveling for 308 million miles onboard the Trace Gas Orbiter before continuing the mission on its own.
After setting on its own 600,000-miles journey to Mars, the Schiaparelli had to survive scorching temperatures of roughly 3,000 degrees F while gliding down safely from 13,000 miles above. However, the heat-resistant shell couldn’t protect it from falling apart on impact.
The European Space Agency experiences disappointment once again since 2003 when the British lost their Beagle 2 lander after separating from the mothership, namely the Mars Express.
Following a string of misfortunes with roots in the late 60s, as many as half of the total attempts to operate on Mars have ended in failure for the U.S., as well as for Europe and Russia.
Moreover, the Schiaparelli Mars lander represented only the first phase of a more complex project that seeks to populate Mars with robots, namely the ExoMars project. Russia and Europe are looking to join forces with the United States through this project.
The next phase will involve the Trace Gas Orbiter looking for gas emissions, methane, in particular, on the surface of Mars. If the 2018 mission goes according to plan, by 2020 a rover will be sent to Mars to drill in search of signs of current or past life forms or evidence of any kind of intelligent activity.
Image Source: Pixabay