European space probe destroyed after plunging to surfaceSci-Tech

October 22, 2016 04:34
European space probe destroyed after plunging to surface

Images taken by a NASA Mars orbiter indicates that a missing European space probe had been destroyed on impact after plummeting to the surface of the Red Planet from a height of 2-4 km (1.2 to 2.5 miles).

The European Space Agency said on Friday that the disc-shaped, 577-kg (1,272 lb) Schiaparelli probe, part of the Russian-European ExoMars programme to search for evidence of life on Mars, descended on Wednesday to test technologies, for a rover that scientists hoped to send to the surface of the planet in 2020.

But contact with the vehicle had been lost around 50 seconds before the expected landing time, leaving its fate uncertain until the NASA images had been received.

ExoMars Flight Director Michel Denis told Reuters TV, "Schiaparelli reached the ground with a velocity that was much higher than it should have been, several hundred kilometres per hour, and was then unfortunately destroyed by the impact" .

It was only the second European attempt to land a craft on Mars, after a failed mission by the British landing craft Beagle 2 in 2003.

The U.S. space agency's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the planet for about 10 years, took low-resolution pictures that showed a bright spot that ESA believes is the 12-metre parachute that Schiaparelli used to slow down.

They also showed a fuzzy dark patch, around 15 by 40 metres in size, about 1 km north of the parachute, which the scientists interpreted as having been created by the impact of the lander following a longer-than-planned free fall.

The primary part of the ExoMars mission has, however, been a success so far, as the Schiaparelli lander's mothership has been brought into orbit around Mars, from where it will try to sniff out methane and other gases that might indicate the presence of life. It will also act as a data relay station for the rover, which is due to follow in 2020.

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By Prakriti Neogi

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NASA  Orbit  European Space Agency