Schiaparelli crash landing images on Mars reveal reason behind spacecraft’s death

Investigating an event which is millions of mile away is a tough proposition. A message from mission control to a spacecraft orbiting Mars takes seven to eight minutes. Therefore scientists try to make the controls of the spacecraft as autonomous as possible. However, this has its pitfalls as was demonstrated with the crash of Schiaparelli which was to soft land on the red planet. Instead, a glitch in computer commands led to the crash-landing of the spacecraft on the hard surface of the planet.

A week after the landing site of the ship was photographed in black and white, the NASA’s orbiter passed over the site again taking new colour photographs. The images have been pieced together, and now the scientists have a fair idea of what went wrong.

The landing site clearly shows fragments of the craft scattered all over telling the tale of its disastrous landing. The burned out rear heat shield is also visible showing that it worked perfectly and the death of the craft was caused by the failure of the retro rockets which fired prematurely or did not burn as planned. It failed to slow down the craft, and it hit the surface at a very high speed.

What led to the crash landing of Schiaparelli spacecraft?

The Lander was a part of the ESA mission which is still trying to develop an effective way to land on the Martian surface safely. The Lander was released from the mothership which was orbiting the planet. It had parachute to slow the descent followed by the firing of the retro rocket which should have slowed the descent to make a soft landing. The craft also had a heat shield to protect it from the heat generated by the atmospheric entry.  In all probability, a software bug caused the rockets to fire only for three minutes and the craft was not sufficiently slowed down to make a soft landing.