Thursday, October 20, 2016

So Sorry, Schiaparelli

Europe appears to have lost another Mars lander.

There’s no glee in that statement. It’s disappointing to see space exploration arrive at failure. But after the probe’s parachute jettisoned early and its retro rockets fired for only three or four seconds rather than the programmed 30 seconds, the European Space Agency likely has lost its Schiaparelli lander on 19 October 2016.

This comes after the loss of Beagle 2 in 2003; that lander was recently discovered on the surface of Mars with its solar panels only partially deployed.

NASA's had its own bad luck on Mars, of course. In 1888, the Mars Climate Orbiter crashed into the planet rather than orbiting it because imperial measurements were used in its thruster controls rather than metric. Oopsie.

Also in 1999, the Mars Polar Lander crashed into the planet when its braking engine shut down too soon.

ESA’s approach to landing Schiaparelli was simple compared to that used by NASA’s Curiosity rover. If any landing were to fail, you’d expect it to be the ridiculously complex Curiosity landing. But that one succeeded.

It is interesting that Schiaparelli’s mission appears primarily to prove that Europe can land a craft on Mars, while the orbiter it was attached to looks for trace gases in the Martian atmosphere. It doesn’t appear their test was successful.

Martians must NOT want Santa Claus back.

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