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EU Mars Space Science

Schiaparelli Mars Lander May Have Exploded On Impact, European Agency Says ( 112

Instead of drifting gently onto Mars' surface, the Schiaparelli Mars lander hit the planet hard -- and possibly exploded, the European Space Agency said today. NPR adds: The NASA images, taken on Oct. 20, show two recent changes to the landscape on Mars' surface -- one dark blotch, and one white speck -- which are being interpreted as Schiaparelli's parachute and its crash site. With the warning that analysis is still ongoing, here are the details the ESA is sharing Friday: "Estimates are that Schiaparelli dropped from a height of between 2 and 4 kilometers, therefore impacting at a considerable speed, greater than 300 km/h [186 mph]. 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." That sequence of events followed the lander's largely trouble-free approach to the Martian surface, a trip that was being widely watched on Wednesday, when the craft lost contact with the ESA and its Mars mothership, the Trace Gas Orbiter, just before its touchdown.
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Schiaparelli Mars Lander May Have Exploded On Impact, European Agency Says

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  • Uh oh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Friday October 21, 2016 @04:11PM (#53125495)
    It's going to be hard convincing the Martians that "we come in peace" after this...
    • Especially with ISIS claiming responsibility.
      • by e r ( 2847683 )
        Actually Samsung claimed this one. The FBI confirmed it by finding traces of electronics at the site.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      k'brill and the Council ordered the Earth probe be destroyed because it was attempting to land too near our training facilities. As the temperatures on Mars have fallen over the millennia, our females have become increasingly barren. But the temperatures on Earth have been rising during this time period. Because of this, over the past 100 years we have taken females from Earth or our species would perish. We did not like this, but thought it was our only option.

      We later tried becoming a part of the Earth po

      • You Martians can't even count. I've seen 4 of them running for President.
      • "It remains to be seen what will happen when these half ape and half reptilian children meet and reproduce and if they will have any special abilities."

        In line with terrestrial cultural values they have accumulated much fame and the gold that goes with it, but as recent events in Paris have shown, they need special training in Earth security.

    • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )

      It's going to be hard convincing the Martians that "we come in peace" after this...

      It's obvious we come in pieces!

    • Don't run! We're your friends!
    • We were just returning the cylinders they lost here in War of the Worlds. C.O.D.

  • SA-11s were spotted in transit to Mars...
  • by Moheeheeko ( 1682914 ) on Friday October 21, 2016 @04:14PM (#53125523)
    "I did the calculations in feet....but I programmed the lander in meters..."
    • Does the ESA typically work with imperial units?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Does the ESA typically work with imperial units?

        History lesson: In 1999, the Mars Climate Orbiter was lost because of a mix-up between imperial units and metric units. See []

        • by Anonymous Coward

          History lesson: In 1999, the Mars Climate Orbiter was lost because of unlabeled units.

          Fixed that for you.

        • Perhaps the ESA should just outsource these projects to NASA since they never seem to have any success at safely landing anything on Mars, meanwhile NASA has either met or exceeded its goals in 6 out of 7 ground based Mars missions.

      • No they do not.

        Have they landed on Mars? No they have not.

        See a connection?

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Dude, maths blunder, you did the calculation in metres and programmed in feet. Doing it the other way means the lander would miss the entire planet by kilometres ;).

  • Protecting Mars (Score:4, Insightful)

    by waveclaw ( 43274 ) on Friday October 21, 2016 @04:15PM (#53125531) Homepage Journal

    The space departments clean these landers quite well. But exploding on impact was either effective at sterilizing the craft in a final way or spread the contamination over the maximal area.

    In both cases Mars maintains a reputation as the place that robots go to die.

  • I am not dead yet...or...It's just a flesh wound. The scene from Groundhog Day when the truck falls a few hundred feet and then explodes is good too.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well, this could be very interesting. This lander was targeted to land very close to the Opportunity rover. Now, it has blasted a big fresh crater in the surface.

    If it would be possible to move Opportunity to that crater, unbelievable amounts of data could be potentially found.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Define "very close". Opportunity has moved a total of about 27 miles in its entire 10 plus year mission. It travels at a blistering 0.11 MPH, assuming that the crash site was 50 miles away and the rover could sustain driving flat out 8 hours a day (optimal solar power limitations I would imagine) it would take nearly 2 months to traverse the distance. But chances are the crash site is considerably further than 50 miles and the rovers wheels/motors/solar panels/batteries would never survive the trip.

      • by The Grim Reefer ( 1162755 ) on Friday October 21, 2016 @05:08PM (#53126041)
        NASA contacted Matt Damon for help with this yesterday. They're plan is to "science the shit out of it."
        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          Just make sure it's an on-site investigation. After that I don't really see a bad outcome either way.

      • Opportunity has moved a total of about 27 miles in its entire 10 plus year mission.

        That's because the goal has been to look at everything it can, not move to a particular place far away.

        But chances are the crash site is considerably further than 50 miles and the rovers wheels/motors/solar panels/batteries would never survive the trip.

        Yeah, the odds of failure have really beat up on Opportunity, haven't they? How about a 6-month trip that is more leisurely and would still provide time to look around a little on the way?

  • by chispito ( 1870390 ) on Friday October 21, 2016 @04:27PM (#53125649)
    Thankfully NASA took the pictures, so the ESA can't sit on them for a few days/weeks before suggesting the all-but-inevitable (the lander crashed). The ESA really needs to learn to be more open with their operations.
    • NASA was much the same before the Challenger accident. The PR people had way too much power - enough to force a launch to proceed when the engineers were saying it wasn't safe.

      I'm willing to cut the ESA a little slack here. Nobody was really hurt by trying to de-emphasize the lander's failure, and the bulk of the instruments are in the orbiter (which will also serve as a communications relay station for future missions). So while the mass media obviously was focused on the lander's failure, from a sci
    • Speaking from the ESA team that co-published those MRO CTX pictures yesterday, your assertions are nonsense and need correcting.

      There was a fully coordinated operation in place to track the lander during its descent, using the GMRT in Pune, India, our own Mars Express spacecraft, NASA's MRO, and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter itself, while data came down through our ESTRACK network and NASA's DSN. The Opportunity rover also in Meridiani Planum took images during the descent, but it was known that that w

      • I'm no expert, I was just trying to comment on the openness of NASA vs ESA. Operationally, I'm sure there is very much to commend about you and your team.
  • by psergiu ( 67614 ) on Friday October 21, 2016 @04:30PM (#53125689) []

    LATE-BREAKING NEWS FROM THE COUNCIL: VICTORY! The Council of Elders has confirmed the blueworlders' resumption of aggression upon our noble red sands. K'Breel, Speaker for the Council of Elders, addressed the planet thusly: OKAY. Okay, so I'm K'Breel (even though anyone on Slashdot can assume the mantle merely by declaring themselves Speaker for the Council), and I'm late, but I'm merely chronologically late, not as in the Late Second Adjunctant to the Council Formerly Known As G'Ranee.

    But domestic politics is beneath us tonight -- just take a glance at the blue world beneath us for a look at how bad that can get -- and let us focus on what's important: over the past sol or so, our Planetary Defense Force has been so good at pre-emptively distracting the blueworlders with tasks like landing comets, grabbing their prospective mates by their genitals, low-planetary orbit missions, and just general tribal infighting that we haven't had to shoot down any robotic invaders in quite some time. But when the opportunity presents itself, we take advantage of it, and so, we did. Hence the trivial elimination of yet another putative invader from elsewhere. We'd do it every day, except that the blueworlders lack the gelsacular fortitude to send us more targets. Now as to gelsacular fortitude, on to Second Adjunctant G'Ranee...

    When a junior reporter pointed out that the destroyed invader was merely a technology demonstrator built on the cheap to see if a landing was possible, and that the blueworlders' actual payload was safely in orbit, K'Breel had the reporter's gelsacs launched into orbit alongside those of G'Ranee for a closer look.

  • but how does something blow up in a atmosphere with no oxygen? Would it not just slam into the ground at high speed and leak propellant into the thin CO2 atmosphere?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      A rocket wouldn't work very well in a vacuum or thin CO2 atmosphere if it didn't have fuel and oxidizer on board.

      • by slew ( 2918 )

        A rocket wouldn't work very well in a vacuum or thin CO2 atmosphere if it didn't have fuel and oxidizer on board.

        FYI A rocket engine by definition has fuel and oxidizer on board. A jet engine is the one that doesn't have the oxidizer on board.

    • by caffeinated_bunsen ( 179721 ) on Friday October 21, 2016 @04:53PM (#53125909)
      When the propellants are two reactive liquids that ignite on contact with each other, a kaboom is a perfectly reasonable consequence of a sudden, severe rearrangement of the tankage.
    • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

      Assuming it isn't a solid rocket, it must contain an oxidizer tank in addition to the fuel tank or else it wouldn't be a very effective rocket. When the fuel combines with the oxidizer, it produces an exothermic reaction.

      ... unless, of course, somebody forgot to fill the oxidizer tank, in which case that's probably why there's a giant probe-shaped crater on the surface of Mars now.

    • by cyn1c77 ( 928549 )

      The lander used hydrazine as its fuel.

      Hydrazine is a monopropellant, so it will react on its own. No oxidizer needed.

      Ideally, it will react in a controlled fashion using a catalyst.

      But since it is a monopropellant, it's a molecule that is only in a semi-stable state. So if enough energy is put into it (though say a high impact crash), it will burn or detonate by itself.

      • All good rocket fuels, particularly monopropellents are explosive under the right conditions and the right conditions is slamming into the ground at 186km/hr which will generate enough kinetic energy transfer to ignite the entire tank at once, often called explosions.

  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Friday October 21, 2016 @04:44PM (#53125827)

    "This is the captain. We have a little problem with our entry sequence, so we may experience some slight turbulence and then explode"
    "We're gonna explode!? I don't wanna explode!"

  • Mars is difficult (Score:3, Informative)

    by The Grim Reefer ( 1162755 ) on Friday October 21, 2016 @05:19PM (#53126111)
    It's not easy to have a successful mission to Mars. Of the 44 missions to Mars [] 18 have been successful, 23 failures and 3 made Mars orbit but the landers were not successful. Currently India is the only country to have a successful mission to Mars on the first try. This is the second time the ESA successfully got into orbit but lost the lander.
    • The US landed first try in 1976 (Viking 1).

      • He claimed "mission to Mars", not just a lander. Excluding flybys, the first US mission to Mars was Mariner 8, which had a failure of the launch vehicle and crashed into the Atlantic (you can decide for yourself whether failure to leave the Earth constitutes a failed mission to Mars or not). Mariner 9 was the second attempt at an orbiter, which succeeded, and was the first spacecraft to orbit another planet. Mariner 9 beat the Soviet craft Mars 2 to orbit by 13 days, and Mars 3 arrived less than a week a

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Friday October 21, 2016 @05:27PM (#53126163) Journal

    "That sequence of events followed the lander's largely trouble-free approach to the Martian surface..."

    Er, not to split hairs here but it was a largely trouble free approach to MARS.
    After it arrived at Mars and after the bit following orbital insertion and correction, the next steps would be:
    - separation
    - descent ...and then all the OTHER steps of a fairly complex landing sequence went spectacularly wrong.

    So it's a heck of a stretch to say anything but a trivial portion of its "approach to the Martian surface" wasn't a complete botch...?

  • by CanEHdian ( 1098955 ) on Friday October 21, 2016 @05:31PM (#53126181)

    From the ESA Schiaparelli Impact Event Investigation Press Conference

    [Michel Denis, ESA] We can also confirm that the parachutes were released earlier than the intended 1.3 kilometers above the surface.
    [ESA Engineer, UK] Miles. 1.3 miles.
    [Michel Denis, ESA] ?!?!!

  • the film Chronicles of Riddick when the ship's computer says "Angle of approach, good." a couple of times and then says "Angle of approach, not good."

    I wonder if next time will include some probes before the lander. A two-part vehicle. One that keeps orbit and another that goes to the surface with the added twist of a couple of probes to send down to the intended landing location to see if that probe is functioning as expected AND THEN send the lander.

    But I'm sure all those clever space folk would
  • by MpVpRb ( 1423381 ) on Friday October 21, 2016 @07:34PM (#53126841)

    Even really smart people fail

    This is a project where it's impossible to test your creation until it's used

    Simulations are getting better, but without testing, all designs are a gamble

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Friday October 21, 2016 @07:40PM (#53126875) Homepage Journal

    If the parachute is behind the lander (in the direction of travel) then the two smaller dark spots above the large dark spot are where chunks of the lander would bounce after impact. The chunks are in the 12 and 2 o'clock positions. Also the parachute is more than 1km from the impact site, which seems a lot given the altitude of separation. But it makes sense if the lander retained its horizontal velocity at separation, while the parachute braked in the atmosphere.

  • If my mother was named Trace Gas orbiter, I'd try to bury my head in the sand too.

  • Is there any chance that the impact & explosion could give us a view that we haven't seen before, a la the Spirit rover?

"It's my cookie file and if I come up with something that's lame and I like it, it goes in." -- karl (Karl Lehenbauer)