The Schiaparelli lander, a major aspect of the European Space Agency’s $1.4 billion ExoMars mission, was destroyed on October 19 when it crash landed onto the martian surface. It was a major, unexpected loss for the ESA, but new color images of the crash site could help explain what happened when the lander careened into the planet.
The Schiaparelli lander, which was part of a joint mission by the European and Russian space agencies, was intended to test entry, descent, and landing operations that would help the agency better prepare to send a successor equipped to search for life on the planet in five years. Only seven spacecraft have successfully landed on Mars, and all of them belonged to NASA, so it’s not an easy task.
It was supposed to look like this, with the expensive spacecraft slowing itself down with a propulsion system because Mars’s atmosphere is too thin for a parachute to be able to slow the craft on its own.
Instead, this happened, because the onboard computer believed it was at a lower altitude than it really was, shutting off the thrusters way too early and deploying the parachute too soon, according to early investigations.
The white spots around the black crater in the top images were confirmed to be fragments of the destroyed craft, some of which were thrown around 20 meters away from the impact site.
The bottom two images show the craft’s parachute. The black-and-white image was taken on October 25, but the more recent color image appears different. “The most logical explanation is that it has been shifted in the wind, in this case slightly to the west,” the agency said in a statement.
“Further imaging is planned in about two weeks, and it will be interesting to see if any further changes are noticed,” the statement continues. “The images may provide more pieces of the puzzle as to what happened to Schiaparelli as it approached the martian surface.”
Photos via ESA