News Good News Signal from Mars lander probe lost before landing

Signal from Mars lander probe lost before landing

Mars Lander
The Mars lander approaching the red planet. Photo: supplied (ESA)
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A senior European Space Agency official says that the signal from the experimental Schiaparelli probe cut off before its landing on Mars, which he says isn’t a good sign.

Paolo Ferri, ESA’s head of operations, said the signal “stopped shortly before landing.”

He cautioned that more analysis of the data was needed to understand what had happened to the experimental lander during Wednesday’s descent.

 

He says it is too soon to jump to conclusions but “it’s clear that these are not good signs.”

He said that an update is expected on Thursday.

The disc-shaped 577kg Schiaparelli lander is which is testing technologies for a rover due to follow in 2020.

During the six minutes descent to the surface, it used a parachute and thrusters to slow from a speed of nearly 21,000 km/h.

ESA is providing live updates on its website.

The lander is named for Giovanni Schiaparelli, the Italian astronomer who in 1877 began mapping the topography of Mars, extending study of what are now known as the planet’s canals, a mistranslation of the Italian word canali, or channels.

“Mars has already inspired people for centuries,” ESA’s Director General Jan Woerner told Reuters TV at its Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt in Germany.

Schiaparelli is part of the European-Russian ExoMars program, which will search for signs of past and present life on Mars and represents only the second European attempt to land a craft on the red planet.

Britain’s Beagle 2 was ejected from the Mars Express spacecraft in 2003 but never made contact after failing to deploy its solar panels upon landing.

At the time it was dubbed “a heroic failure”.

The primary goal of ExoMars is to find out whether life has ever existed on Mars. The spacecraft on which the Schiaparelli lander travelled to Mars, Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), carries an atmospheric probe to study trace gases such as methane around the planet.

Scientists believe that methane, a chemical that on Earth is strongly tied to life, could stem from micro-organisms that either became extinct millions of years ago and left gas frozen below the planet’s surface, or that some methane-producing organisms still survive.

The second part of the ExoMars mission, delayed to 2020 from 2018, will deliver a European rover to the surface of Mars. It will be the first with the ability to both move across the planet’s surface and drill into the ground to collect and analyse samples.

The ExoMars 2016 mission is led by the European Space Agency (ESA), with Russia’s Roscosmos supplying the launcher and two of the four scientific instruments on the trace gas orbiter.

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