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.

October 11th, 2016

Barack Obama: America will take the giant leap to Mars CNN

obamaWe have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way.

The next step is to reach beyond the bounds of Earth’s orbit. I’m excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space. These missions will teach us how humans can live far from Earth — something we’ll need for the long journey to Mars.

October 7th, 2016

Mangalyaan’s Second Anniversary at Mars

Global view of Mars from MOM.
ISRO/ISSDC/Emily Lakdawalla/The Planetary Society

On Mars Orbiter Mission’s (MOM) second anniversary of Mars arrival, ISRO has (finally!) made available to the public data from its first year in orbit. As expected, there are no dramatically new science results. The most anticipated results were from the Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM), which unfortunately hasn’t found any methane on the planet. This does not necessarily imply that there is no methane at Mars, only that MSM is likely not sensitive enough to sense trace amounts of methane that are present.

Other payloads include the Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP), which studies the abundance of deuterium and hydrogen in the atmosphere, the Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIIS) to study and map the mineral surface of Mars, and the Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA), a neutral gas spectrometer. MENCA’s science results were already published in a paper in March.

October 6th, 2016

How Schiaparelli will descend and land on Mars on 19 October 2016 ESA

Visualisation of the ExoMars Schiaparelli module entering and descending through the martian atmosphere to land on Mars.

Schiaparelli will enter the atmosphere at about 21 000 km/h and in less than six minutes it will use a heatshield, a parachute and thrusters to slow its descent before touching down in the Meridiani Planum region close to the equator, absorbing the final contact with a crushable structure.

The entire process will take less than six minutes: the animation has been sped up.

Schiaparelli is set to separate from the Trace Gas Orbiter on 16 October, after a seven-month cruise together through space, and will enter the atmosphere on 19 October at 14:42 GMT.

For an overview of the key timings and altitudes corresponding to the events portrayed in this animation see the Schiaparelli descent sequence graphic:…

Both Schiaparelli and the Mars scenery in this animation were computer generated.