UPDATED: The ExoMars Mission Lander Just Fell Through Mars' Atmosphere - Did It Survive?

Wednesday, 19 October 2016 - 2:21PM
Space
ESA
Mars
Wednesday, 19 October 2016 - 2:21PM
UPDATED: The ExoMars Mission Lander Just Fell Through Mars' Atmosphere - Did It Survive?
It's been a big month for interplanetary exploration—first Elon Musk announces his plans to colonize Mars with an Interplanetary Transport System, then Barack Obama announces that he wants to make it a national goal to land humans on the Red Planet by the 2030s, and now the European Space Agency has gotten its new satellite, the ExoMars Orbiter, safely into orbit around Mars. But the real drama is what's happening with the Schiaparelli Lander.

The ExoMars Mission was launched on March 14th, 2016, and consisted of two pieces of hardware: the orbiter and the lander. Likewise, the goal of the mission was twofold: the orbiter was supposed to monitor the presence of methane on the planet's surface, which may reveal the chemical makeup of the planet and even confirm the presence of microbes (methane is also a key part of Elon Musk's strategy for colonizing Mars), and the lander was supposed to test new technology that would be used to land a rover on Mars in 2020. After a nerve-wracking few minutes, the orbiter was confirmed as arriving in Mars' orbit, but right now, we still don't know if the lander survived the descent through Mars' atmosphere and the (understandably difficult) landing. Here's a video that shows the aerodynamics testing they used to simulate the Schiaparelli Lander's descent:



The lander didn't report in to NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter during the first possible window, but if it survived, we should be hearing from it soon. The last tweet about the lander, sent at 1:15 PM EST:


According to The Guardian, the mission will not fail if the lander is determined non-operational—the ESA wanted to be able to take pictures of the surface and set up a weather-monitoring platform, but the main goal of the lander was to test new landing technology. 99% of the data for the mission is expected to come from the ExoMars Orbiter, which has its own Twitter account where it talks cheerfully in the first person to us Earthlings:


We'll be keeping an eye out for new developments with the ExoMars mission, but in the meantime be sure to follow their ESA twitter and watch the ESA's Livestream about the missions here.

UPDATE - 10/19/16 02:55 pm

 According to Paolo Ferri, the Head of the ESA's Mission Operations, we now know that the Schiaparelli Lander' signal "stopped before the landing" and is not currently responding. This is a "bad sign" according to Ferri.

However, according to the Guardian:

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ESA's Director General Jan Woerner is saying that regardless what happened to Schiaparelli, this test was a success. He says that they did this to get data about how to land on Mars with European technology - and that is what is downloading from Mars Express right now. Although he refuses to give up hope (He says, "Cross your fingers still.") no one is talking now about the hope of signals being received by NASA's MRO spacecraft.
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