Sensor malfunction led to Schiaparelli’s crash landing: ESA

Sensor malfunction led to Schiaparelli’s crash landing: ESA

A sensor malfunction was likely responsible for the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Mars lander Schiaparelli's crash landing last month, a preliminary investigation suggested.

ESA said in a statement that the investigation suggested that the onboard computer misinterpreted sensor data and the lander mistakenly thought it was much closer to the surface of the Red Planet when in it was still nearly 3.7 kilometers (2.29 miles) above the surface.

The mistake prompted the lander to jettison its parachute and fire its landing rockets earlier than planned. Resultantly, it fell to the ground and crashed.

David Parker, director of human spaceflight and robotic exploration at the agency, said, "This in turn successively triggered a premature release of the parachute and the backshell, a brief firing of the braking thrusters and finally activation of the on-ground systems as if Schiaparelli had already landed."

However, Parker underlined that it was still a preliminary conclusion and the full picture will be available sometime in early 2017, when an external independent inquiry board will submit its report.

The Schiaparelli probe, which was part of the ESA's larger mission called ExoMars, was launched along with its companion spacecraft called the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which successfully reached the Red Planet's orbit in October this year. Despite the setback, the agency believes the failure will teach it new lessons to make its future probes successful.

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