Mars Probe Confirmed Entering Martian Atmosphere
A spacecraft from Earth has once again reached Mars.
The European Space Agency said its Schiaparelli spacecraft entered the Martian atmosphere on Wednesday, but there was still no word on if the probe had successfully landed.
In a bad sign, the ESA confirmed that the signal from the lander had stopped unexpectedly, with the agency’s Paulo Ferri, the Head of Mission Operations Department at the ESA saying it was not a good sign.
The probe was released from its mother ship, the Trace Gas Orbiter, Sunday, and over the ensuing days, it positioned itself for a landing.
As with any landing on such a distant body, it’s tricky, with some calling the descent “six minutes of hell,” as the craft plunges toward the red planet at 21,000 kilometers per hour.
If everything worked Schiaparelli used parachutes and reverse thrusters to slow the craft to a mere 10 kph.
“We can’t conclude the real status of (Schiaparelli) at the moment but indeed it did enter the atmosphere,” an official said at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.
Schiaparelli will take images of Mars and conduct scientific measurements on the surface, but its main purpose is to test technology for a future European Mars rover.
Meanwhile, TGO will remain in orbit, analyzing methane and other gases in the Martian atmosphere to help determine whether there is or was life on Mars.
The two crafts are part of the ExoMars mission, a joint venture between ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, and were launched in March.
In the next stage of the ExoMars program, ESA plans to send a rover to Mars in 2020, equipped with a drill and instruments dedicated to geochemistry and the search for life.
Scientists have said that landing a spacecraft on Mars is very difficult. ESA’s last attempt to land the Beagle 2 rover on Mars failed at the end of 2003.
Beagle 2 disappeared during the landing process and was declared lost after several months. It was not located until January 2015, when new photos from an orbiter showed that it had reached the surface, but did not fully deploy and start communicating.