European Mars Lander's Crash Last Month Was Due To Computer Glitch, Investigators Say

On November 23, the European Space Agency (ESA) made on update on their investigation regarding the ExoMars Schiaparelli anomaly on October 19, where the vehicle crashed on the surface of the planet Mars.   The multi-million dollar project was designed to "search for traces of past and present life" and was expected to land on Mars' surface on October 19.

The Lander Thought It Has Already Landed

They discovered that the computer used to measure the lander's rotation hit maximum reading, knocking other calculations off track.  In effect, the navigation system thought that the lander is lower than it really was, so it deployed its parachute and braking thrusters prematurely. 

"The erroneous information generated an estimated altitude that was negative-that is, below ground level," the ESA said in a statement.  This in turn successively triggered a premature release of the parachute and the backshell (heat shield), a brief firing of the braking thrusters and finally activation of the on-ground systems as if Schiaparelli had already landed. In reality, the vehicle was still at an altitude of around 3.7 km," the ESA said in a statement. 

Computer Simulations Were Used To Replicate The Problem

In preparation for the next phase of the ExoMars mission, ESA's $251-million Schiaparelli probe was meant to validate its method for landing large payloads on the surface of Mars, but the crash only resulted to bad press.  In order to understand why the accident happened, ESA reproduced the problem through computer simulations, but they said they still don't know the full extent of the failure until a report is released early next year. 

David Parker, ESA's director of human spaceflight and robotic exploration said: "This is still a very preliminary conclusion of our technical investigations.  But we will have learned much from Schiaparelli that will directly contribute to the second ExoMars mission being developed with our international partners for launch in 2020."

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