Europe’s Schiaparelli lander has reportedly exploded after slamming into the surface of Mars at the speed of a Formula One car.
Low-resolution images from a NASA spacecraft have captured a new 14-40-metre black crater on Mars, with a nearby light spot thought to be the landing parachute.
Data transmitted from the 577-kilogram probe before it lost contact suggest its descent systems did not work properly.
It is believed the landing parachute was jettisoned too early and retrorockets designed to slow the robot to a hover a couple of metres above the surface fired for just a fraction of the required 30 seconds.
The European Space Agency, which operated Schiaparelli, released a statement saying the rockets “switched off prematurely,” resulting in “a much longer free fall than planned” and a surface impact speed of more than 300 kilometres per hour.
The rockets switching off early also meant most of their fuel was unused, making it “possible” that the lander “exploded on impact,” the agency said.
Schiaparelli was part of ExoMars 2016, a joint mission by the European and Russian space agencies.
The mission was not an abject failure, however, with the resounding success of the Trace Gas Orbiter, launched together with the lander, now safely orbiting around Mars.
Schiaparelli was designed to test technologies for a more substantial roving laboratory scheduled for launch in 2020, although the timing and design of that mission are now in doubt.