Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter identifies Schiaparelli landing site


Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has spotted new markings on the surface of the planet, which are assumed by the European Space Agency (ESA) officials to be related to the lost Schiaparelli lander.

On 19 October, the ESA said that it had lost contact with the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander minutes before it was expected to touch down on the surface of Mars.

Data collected by scientists on Earth show that the lander successfully entered the Martian atmosphere and descended towards Mars as planned.

However, the parachute and the back heat shield of the lander were opened earlier than expected.

"Recording the data during the descent was part of that, and it is important we can learn what happened, in order to prepare for the future.”

Based on the images released by Nasa’s MRO, it is estimated that ‘Schiaparelli dropped from a height of between 2km and 4km, therefore impacting at a considerable speed, greater than 300km/h’.

Later this week, scientists will take a closer look at the images taken with the highest resolution camera onboard MRO, HiRISE. It is expected that ‘these images may also reveal the location of the front heat shield, dropped at higher altitude’.

ESA director general Jan Wörner said: “Following yesterday’s events, we have an impressive orbiter around Mars ready for science and for relay support for the ExoMars rover mission in 2020. 

“Schiaparelli’s primary role was to test European landing technologies. Recording the data during the descent was part of that, and it is important we can learn what happened, in order to prepare for the future.”

The ESA scientists are still analysing the downlinked data sent by Schiaparelli to its Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mothership during the six-minute descent.

From the data provided by Schiaparelli during its descent, ESA further expects to understand the steps that did occur and reasons behind the hard landing.

The agency also said that TGO had successfully performed a crucial ‘Mars Orbit Insertion’ manoeuvre during Schiaparelli’s descent.

Measuring around 18m, TGO will spend years examining the Martian atmosphere to explore the potential existence of gas, such as methane that could indicate life on Mars, reported Guardian.


Image: Artist impression of Schiaparelli with parachute deployed. Photo: courtesy of the ESA.