New details emerge of Schiaparelli crash site

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Schiaparelli crash site

A new high resolution image from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HIRISE camera, reduced in resolution on the right, confirms that Schiaparelli crashed into the ground on October 19.

The scene shown by HiRISE includes three locations where hardware reached the ground. A dark, roughly circular feature is interpreted as where the lander itself struck. A pattern of rays extending from the circle suggests that a shallow crater was excavated by the impact, as expected given the premature engine shutdown. About 0.8 mile (1.4 kilometers) eastward, an object with several bright spots surrounded by darkened ground is likely the heat shield. About 0.8 mile (1.4 kilometers) south of the lander impact site, two features side-by-side are interpreted as the spacecraft’s parachute and the back shell to which the parachute was attached.

The center insert is a close-up of the impact site on the left, which clearly shows that the lander hit the ground hard, producing impact ejecta. That the rays are somewhat asymmetric also suggests that Schiaparellit hit the ground at an oblique angle.


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  • BSJ

    The onboard fuel would have added to the “explosive” force of the ejecta as well.

  • LocalFluff

    ESA is making progress. They found the crash site of this “lander” within days. A great improvement from the last attempt when it took several years to find the landing site of the failed spacecraft. The crash site of the ExoMars rover in 2018 is expected to be found within hours. Great progress!

  • Gealon

    LocalFluff has succeeded in making me chuckle.

    However I must point out, there’s still the Phobosians to worry about.

  • Wayne

    Localfluff does have a certain “flair,” with the language, which I do enjoy at times!

    referencing the fuel on-board the lander;
    What were they using & what is the explosion-risk, given a “catastrophic failure?”

    Isn’t that a bird I see flying in the vicinity of the crash site? (Har…)

  • BSJ

    The Retro rockets fired well short of the proscribed amount of time. The remaining fuel would have gone BANG upon impact…

  • wayne

    BSJ– thanks. (I haven’t delved into this at all.)

    Cursory search at Wikipedia, (sorry) & their Schiaparelli page appears well-done & up-to-date.

    >Hydrazine for the retro-rockets.

    [ALL this stuff, is Amazing. Even when not entirely successful.]

  • Edward

    If the retro rockets were hydrazine monopropellant, then there may not have been a fireball, as the atmosphere is mostly CO2. However, if there were a hypergolic oxidizer, such as nitrogen tetroxide, then Schiaparelli would likely have made a spectacle rarely seen on Mars.

    Which raises the philosophical question: if a lander crashes on Mars, and no one is there to see the fireball, did the price of tea in China increase or decrease?

  • wayne

    Edward– Good one!

    (It doesn’t specify at wiki whether it’s mono/bi/tri (questioning) or what & haven’t been to the ESA website.)

  • Wayne and Edward: From the ExoMars website, the propulsion system is made of “3 clusters of 3 hydrazine engines (400 N each), operated in pulse-modulation.”

    I should add that the website repeated refers to this as liquid propellant.

  • More here:

    Schiaparelli’s propulsion system comprises three groups of three thrusters, attached to the outer rim of the surface platform and spaced at 120-degree intervals. The surface platform also carries three spherical hydrazine tanks, each with a capacity of 16 kilograms.

    These are linked individually to each thruster cluster but separated from each other to prevent any flow from one tank into another. A single pressure tank filled with helium supplies the gas pressure for feeding fuel to the thrusters. A complex system of valves, and flow and pressure controllers, ensures that each thruster cluster exerts exactly the same force during the final descent phase.

  • wayne

    Thanks Mr. Z.

    All this stuff, is amazing.

    A repeat from me, but a good one;
    7 Minutes of Terror:
    Curiosity Rover’s Risky Mars Landing

    Excellent animation/explanation of a truly incredible piece of engineering.
    (Rube Goldberg Meets Flash Gordon, On Mars, In Space!)

  • Edward

    Thanks, Robert, for the link. I found a little more on the same site: “Nine CHT-400 hydrazine thrusters (400 Newton thrust each) then begin to fire in pulse modulation …” ( )

    From this thruster type, I found more information: “400 N Chemical Monopropellant Hydrazine Thruster”

    Thus, the CHT-400 is a monopropellant thruster. There may not have been much of a spectacular explosion, after all, outside of the dust, sand, dirt, and mangled parts that were kicked up (and bursting hydrazine and helium tanks).

    Since there was so much blackening in the photographs, I expected that the thrusters were hypergolic and had charred a lot of material as it sprayed away. A bit disappointing, but now I wonder about the darkened material. I am going to hypothesize that the material underground is darker than the surface material. In a way similar to the Moon having bright streaks radiating away from impacts, Mars may form dark streaks.

    (Come to think about it, black char is usually the result of heat oxidizing surface material, but there isn’t much free oxygen for anything to char on Mars. Earthly experience may not be as useful on other planets as we expect it to be.)

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