Fate of Schiaparelli remains unknown

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While Europe’s Trace Gas Orbiter has successfully gone into orbit around Mars, it remains unknown whether the lander Schiaparelli was able today to land successfully on the surface.

The carrier signal from Schiaparelli recorded by Mars Express abruptly ended shortly before landing, just as the beacon tone received by a ground-based radio telescope in India stopped in real-time earlier today.

Paolo Ferri, head of ESA’s mission operations department, just gave an update on the situation. “We saw the signal through the atmospheric phase — the descent phase. At a certain point, it stopped,” Ferri said. “This was unexpected, but we couldn’t conclude anything from that because this very weak signal picked up on the ground was coming from an experimental tool.

“We (waited) for the Mars Express measurement, which was taken in parallel, and it was of the same kind. It was only recording the radio signal. The Mars Express measurement came at 1830 (CEST) and confirmed exactly the same: the signal went through the majority of the descent phase, and it stopped at a certain point that we reckon was before the landing.

“There could be many many reasons for that,” Ferri said. “It’s clear these are not good signs, but we will need more information.”


  • Matt in AZ

    Hopefully ESA will know the location well enough for NASA’s MRO to find it.

  • Frank

    Its common practice to use measured doppler shifted frequency data from moving objects in space to determine their speed and location. They should know where the lander was and how fast it was going right up to loss of signal.

  • Localfluff

    “Shapy” was supposed to take 16 images during landing, just to help find its landing site. Those have not been transmitted. Beagle took a long time to find and it was larger. Wasting MRO’s time searching an area it probably has mapped already, since Spirit landed there, would waste other science it could do.

  • eddie willers

    Why is Mars so hard? Seems like missions are a 50/50 shot.

  • eddie willers asked, “Why is Mars so hard?”

    I think you should instead ask, “How is it that the U.S. has made going to Mars seem so easy?” The bulk of the failures come from attempts by the Soviet Union, which threw a lot of probes to Mars in the 1960s and 1970s, all of which failed. There were later failures by the U.S., Europe, Japan, and Russia, but the percentages are still skewed because of the early Soviet failures.

    In addition, we must remember that this is not easy, even when it succeeds. Mars is millions of miles away. It is an alien planet with a harsh environment. The technical challenges are daunting.

    Yet, somehow, almost all of the Mars missions by the U.S. have succeeded. I think that is a testament to the skill of American engineers, something for which Americans should be proud.

  • Dave Williams

    It will be interesting to see the learning curve for SpaceX when they tackle Mars.

  • maurice

    sigh. Beagle-2 redux. sad. next time, use the sky crane method – hard smackdowns are hard to recover from

  • J Fincannon

    Or use the Pathfinder method. I liked those airbags.

  • Frank

    We have video coverage of previous landing attempts. Enjoy


  • wayne

    Frank– most excellent!

    One of my favorite pieces of NASA animation:

    7 Minutes of Terror: Curiosity Rover’s Risky Mars Landing

  • Edward

    J Fincannon wrote: “Or use the Pathfinder method. I liked those airbags.”

    It turns out that the various methods of landing depend upon the weight of the lander. The airbags worked because the lander and rover were light enough that the bouncing did not cause significant damage. However, Curiosity was far too heavy for that to be the case. Thus the “7 Minutes of Terror” landing method.

    It is also why SpaceX is using retropropulsion during entry. They are sending a lander that is even heavier than Curiosity.

    Wayne wrote: “One of my favorite pieces of NASA animation: 7 Minutes of Terror”

    When I first saw that video, shortly before Curiosity landed, I thought that JPL’s engineers had finally lost their minds. Surprisingly, it actually worked, which — to paraphrase Robert — is a testament to the skill of JPL engineers.

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