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Schiaparelli Crash: Europe’s EDM Lander Mission For Mars Was Ill-Prepared To Make Landing

First Posted: May 26, 2017 05:54 AM EDT
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The European Space Agency (ESA) has released the results of its inquiry into the Schiaparelli lander crash after investigating the matter for seven months. The EDM lander of the ExoMars program had failed to land successfully on the Red Planet last October.

The investigation done with the help of orbital images and telemetry data has confirmed that the mishap occurred due to a sudden and violent rotation of the module, according to a Phys.org report. This movement made the onboard computer assess that the spacecraft had already landed. Subsequently, it shut down Schiaparelli’s landing thrusters while still far above the Martian surface.

The computer’s telemetry analysis showed that it had mistakenly believed that the lander was on the ground when it was actually thousands of feet in the air. Moreover, the computer had even started its ground program and relaying housekeeping data.

Incidentally, the spacecraft’s crash was actually confirmed with the help of images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It was also established that Schiaparelli’s crash had led to an explosion of its fuel tank, and consequently, the lander was destroyed.

An independent external inquiry headed by ESA’s Inspector General was set up by the space agency to look into the matter, determine the cause of the mishap, and also suggested recommendations to avoid such a scenario again in the future. Incidentally, according to ESA, the landing was successful -- barring the crash, explosion and total loss of the lander.

"Interestingly, had the saturation not occurred and the final stages of landing had been successful, we probably would not have identified the other weak spots that contributed to the mishap," ESA's Director General Jan Woerner had said, as The Guardian reported. "As a direct result of this inquiry we have discovered the areas that require particular attention that will benefit the 2020 mission."

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