Preliminary Cause of ESA Schiaparelli Spacecraft Crash Discovered

ESA ExoMars 2016
Credit: NASA

jon round 1By Jonathan Stroud

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released new details regarding October’s failed Mars landing of the ExoMars Schiaparelli spacecraft.

The ESA has reproduced the crash in computer system simulations using data recovered from the spacecraft to help determine the cause of the failed landing. The space agency believes that the crash may have been related to the Inertial Measuring Unit (IMU), which is responsible for the rotational measurement of the spacecraft. The IMU delivered incorrect data to the landers guidance, navigation, and control systems resulting in an output that was one second longer than expected. The small miscalculation triggered the release of the parachute and backshell prematurely, reading it as if Schiaparelli had already landed; in reality, the spacecraft was approximately 3.7km (2.29mi) from the ground.

According to ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration David Parker, “This is still a very preliminary conclusion of our technical investigations.”

He continued, “The full picture will be provided in early 2017 by the future report of an external independent inquiry board, which is now being set up, as requested by ESA’s Director General, under the chairmanship of ESA’s Inspector General. But we will have learned much from Schiaparelli that will directly contribute to the second ExoMars mission being developed with our international partners for launch in 2020.”

The impact from the failed landing can be seen below.

Credit: NASA

Why Should I Care?

You should care because even though the lander crashed, the data collected will help to ensure the success of future robotic and manned missions to Mars. Knowing what went wrong with this mission is essential for knowing how to improve technologies for subsequent missions.

Check out a short video of Schiaparelli’s trajectory below.

Schiaparelli was one part of the ExoMars mission, with the main component being the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). The TGO successfully reached its planned Mars orbit where it will maneuver into an operational orbit in 2017. The Mars orbiter will help relay data from the European rover vehicle that is scheduled to be launched by Russia for a 2020 mission. Read more about the ExoMars mission in a prior Journalists For Space article by clicking here.

Keep up with the latest Mars news and space-related content at Journalists For Space.

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