The view from above of crash site. CredutL NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The view from above of crash site.
CredutL NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

 

Splat attack!

More information has been issued as to the fate of Europe’s failed Schiaparelli Mars lander.

New high-resolution images taken by a NASA orbiter –the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and its super-powerful High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) — show parts of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ExoMars Schiaparelli module and its landing site in color on the Red Planet.White spots, fuzzy patch

Color imagery of the October 19th crash site shows Schiaparelli and its hardware components. For example, a number of the bright white spots around the dark region can be seen.

Also, a bright fuzzy patch revealed in the color image alongside the dark streaks to the west of the crater could be surface material disturbed in the impact or from a subsequent explosion or explosive decompression of the module’s fuel tanks.

Blowing in the wind

According to an ESA press statement, here are some related facts:

About 0.9 km to the south, the parachute and rear heatshield have also now been imaged in colour.

In the time that has elapsed since the last image was taken on 25 October, the outline of the parachute has changed. The most logical explanation is that it has been shifted in the wind, in this case slightly to the west.

Artist's impression of Schiaparelli, the ExoMars entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, as it approaches the Martian surface. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Artist’s impression of Schiaparelli, the ExoMars entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, as it approaches the Martian surface.
Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

A stereo reconstruction of this image in the future will also help to confirm the orientation of the rear heatshield. The pattern of bright and dark patches suggest it is sitting such that we see the outside of the heatshield and the signature of the way in which the external layer of insulation has burned away in some parts and not others – as expected.

New images coming

Finally, the front heatshield has been imaged again in black and white – its location falls outside of the colour region imaged by MRO – and shows no changes. Because of the different viewing geometry between the two image sets, this confirms that the bright spots are not specular reflections, and must therefore be related to the intrinsic brightness of the object. That is, it is most likely the bright multilayer thermal insulation that covers the inside of the front heatshield.

Further imaging is planned in about two weeks, and it will be interesting to see if any further changes are noticed.

Artist impression of the Schiaparelli module on the surface of Mars. Mishap caused lander to crash into the Red Planet and explode. Credit: ESA

Artist impression of the Schiaparelli module on the surface of Mars. Mishap caused lander to crash into the Red Planet and explode.
Credit: ESA

The images may provide more pieces of the puzzle as to what happened to Schiaparelli as it approached the martian surface.

Following its successful atmospheric entry and subsequent slowing due to heatshield and parachute deceleration, the internal investigation into the root cause of the problems encountered by Schiaparelli in the latter stages of its six-minute descent continues.

As noted in the ESA statement, an independent inquiry board has been initiated.

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