October 27th, 2016

Closer Look at Schiaparelli Impact Site on Mars

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

This Oct. 25, 2016, image shows the area where the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli test lander reached the surface of Mars, with magnified insets of three sites where components of the spacecraft hit the ground. It is the first view of the site from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter taken after the Oct. 19, 2016, landing event.

The Schiaparelli test lander was one component of ESA’s ExoMars 2016 project, which placed the Trace Gas Orbiter into orbit around Mars on the same arrival date.

This HiRISE observation adds information to what was learned from observation of the same area on Oct. 20 by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Context Camera (CTX). Of these two cameras, CTX covers more area and HiRISE shows more detail. A portion of the HiRISE field of view also provides color information. The impact scene was not within that portion for the Oct. 25 observation, but an observation with different pointing to add color and stereo information is planned.

This Oct. 25 observation shows three locations where hardware reached the ground, all within about 0.9 mile (1.5 kilometer) of each other, as expected. The annotated version includes insets with six-fold enlargement of each of those three areas. Brightness is adjusted separately for each inset to best show the details of that part of the scene. North is about 7 degrees counterclockwise from straight up. The scale bars are in meters.

October 26th, 2016

UAE Mars Mission: Laying the foundation of a space industry

Emirati engineers working on the flight model of KhalifaSat. Image Credit: MBRSC

Emirati engineers working on the flight model of KhalifaSat. Image Credit: MBRSC

Just a little over a year since the UAE announced its Mars mission, interest in space science has started gathering momentum among younger Emiratis.

With the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) starting development of its third satellite — KhalifaSat, due for launch in 2018 — the interest will only grow.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced last year that the UAE would send the first Arab probe to Mars to create mankind’s first integrated model of the Martian atmosphere.

To be launched in July 2020, the unmanned probe called Al Amal (Arabic for hope) will go an approximately 200-day journey. It is expected to enter Mars’ orbit in the first quarter of 2021, in time for the UAE’s 50th National Day.

October 25th, 2016

Computing glitch may have doomed Mars lander

Illustration showing the moment the Schiaparelli lander was to jettison its back shell and parachute and ignite its descent engines. A preliminary analysis suggests this stage happened prematurely, likely the result of a software error. (Image: ESA/ATG Medialab)

Illustration showing the moment the Schiaparelli lander was to jettison its back shell and parachute and ignite its descent engines. A preliminary analysis suggests this stage happened prematurely, likely the result of a software error. (Image: ESA/ATG Medialab)

Photos of a huge circle of churned-up Martian soil leave few doubts: a European Space Agency (ESA) probe that was supposed to test landing technology on Mars crashed into the red planet instead, and may have exploded on impact.

Mars-probe loss is a chance for ESA to learn

The events of 19 October may be painful for ESA scientists to recall, but they will now have to relive them over and over again in computer simulations. The lander, called Schiaparelli, was part of ESA’s ExoMars mission, which is being conducted jointly with the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos. It was a prelude to a planned 2020 mission, when researchers aim to land a much larger scientific station and rover on Mars, which will drill up to 2-metres down to look for signs of ancient life in the planet’s soil. Figuring out Schiaparelli’s faults and rectifying them is a priority, says Jorge Vago, project scientist for ExoMars. “That’s super important. I think it’s on everybody’s mind.”

October 21st, 2016

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter views Schiaparelli landing site

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has identified new markings on the surface of the Red Planet that are believed to be related to ESA’s ExoMars Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing technology demonstrator module.

Schiaparelli entered the martian atmosphere at 14:42 GMT on 19 October for its 6-minute descent to the surface, but contact was lost shortly before expected touchdown. Data recorded by its mothership, the Trace Gas Orbiter, are currently being analysed to understand what happened during the descent sequence.

In the meantime, the low-resolution CTX camera on-board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) took pictures of the expected touchdown site in Meridiani Planum on 20 October as part of a planned imaging campaign.

Estimates are that Schiaparelli dropped from a height of between 2 and 4 kilometres, therefore impacting at a considerable speed, greater than 300 km/h. The relatively large size of the feature would then arise from disturbed surface material. It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact, as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full. These preliminary interpretations will be refined following further analysis.

October 20th, 2016

ExoMars lander may have crashed on Mars after parachute and retrorocket problems

The European space probe Schiaparelli may have crash landed on Mars after suffering problems releasing its parachute and firing retrorockets to slow its descent, it emerged today.

At a briefing this morning, the European Space Agency (ESA) said there had been technical failings in the final 30 seconds before landing.

Schiaparelli’s touchdown was supposed to prove that the ESA had the capability to land on Mars ahead of the second part of the ExoMars mission to place a rover on the planet in 2020, which will drill into the surface looking for signs of life on the Red Planet.

But there were fears that the problems could impact future funding. European ministers will meet later this year to decide whether to give the green light to the 2020 mission.

Andrea Acoomazzo, ESA Spacecraft Operations Manager, said that everything had gone to plan for the first five and a half minutes of descent but then events ‘diverged from what was expected’ during ejection of the parachute and heat shield.

October 19th, 2016

ExoMars TGO reaches Mars orbit while EDM situation under assessment

ExoMars approaching Mars

ExoMars approaching Mars

The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) of ESA’s ExoMars 2016 has successfully performed the long 139-minute burn required to be captured by Mars and entered an elliptical orbit around the Red Planet, while contact has not yet been confirmed with the mission’s test lander from the surface.

TGO’s Mars orbit Insertion burn lasted from 13:05 to 15:24 GMT on 19 October, reducing the spacecraft’s speed and direction by more than 1.5 km/s. The TGO is now on its planned orbit around Mars. European Space Agency teams at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, continue to monitor the good health of their second orbiter around Mars, which joins the 13-year old Mars Express.

The ESOC teams are trying to confirm contact with the Entry, Descent & Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), Schiaparelli, which entered the Martian atmosphere some 107 minutes after TGO started its own orbit insertion manoeuvre.

October 19th, 2016

Watch ExoMars arrival and landing

Live coverage of ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter arrival and Schiaparelli landing on Mars

19 October – landing and arriving at Mars

The ESA TV programme will be broadcast on this page in two parts on 19 October:

15:44–16:59 GMT / 17:44–18:59 CEST
18:25–20:03 GMT / 20:25–22:03 CEST

October 18th, 2016

MAVEN Gives Unprecedented Ultraviolet View of Mars

New global images of Mars from the MAVEN mission show the ultraviolet glow from the Martian atmosphere in unprecedented detail, revealing dynamic, previously invisible behavior. They include the first images of “nightglow” that can be used to show how winds circulate at high altitudes. Additionally, dayside ultraviolet imagery from the spacecraft shows how ozone amounts change over the seasons and how afternoon clouds form over giant Martian volcanoes. The images were taken by the MAVEN Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS).

“MAVEN obtained hundreds of such images in recent months, giving some of the best high-resolution ultraviolet coverage of Mars ever obtained,” said Nick Schneider of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder. Schneider is presenting these results Oct. 19 at the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Pasadena, California.

October 17th, 2016

Ready for the Red Planet

Artist's impression depicting the separation of the ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, named Schiaparelli, from the Trace Gas Orbiter, and heading for Mars. Copyright: ESA/ATG medialab

Artist’s impression depicting the separation of the ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, named Schiaparelli, from the Trace Gas Orbiter, and heading for Mars.
Copyright: ESA/ATG medialab

This week, ESA’s ExoMars has just a single chance to get captured by Mars’ gravity. The spacecraft and the mission controllers who will make it so are ready for arrival.

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is on a multiyear mission to understand the methane and other gases in Mars’ atmosphere at low levels and could be evidence for possible biological or geological activity.

The 3.7 tonne mothership is carrying the 577 kg Schiaparelli lander that will test key technologies in preparation for ESA’s 2020 rover mission.

The pair have almost completed their 496 million km journey, and are now speeding towards a critical stage: releasing the lander on Sunday and the lander’s descent and touchdown next Wednesday, at the same time as the main craft begins circling the planet.

“They are now on a high-speed collision course with Mars, which is fine for the lander – it will stay on this path to make its controlled landing,” says flight director Michel Denis at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

“However, to get the mothership into orbit, we must make a small but vital adjustment on 17 October to ensure it avoids the planet. And on 19 October it must fire its engine at a precise time for 139 minutes to brake into orbit.

“We get just a single chance.”

October 13th, 2016

Retired basketball star Yao Ming takes on new mission as China’s ambassador to Mars

China has appointed retired basketball star Yao Ming and 10 other celebrities as “Ambassadors to Mars” to promote the nation’s first mission to Mars in 2020.

The 11 ambassadors will help publicise the Mars programme, encourage interest in science and technology among young Chinese people and also promote China’s international image.

The 2020 mission would be launched on a Long March-5 carrier rocket from the Wenchang space launch centre in southern China’s Hainan province, Xinhua reported.