The European Space Agency has recently discovered the reason why the Schiaparelli probe crash-landed on Mars, last month.
According to the preliminary data gathered by the European Space Agency, the Schiaparelli probe crashed on the surface on Mars due to a computer glitch. As a result of the glitch, Schiaparelli’s flight computer could not estimate the landing distance.
The ESA scrambled several robotics and computer experts in order to explain why the Schiaparelli probe crashed. It would seem that a minor glitch in the system, made the probe believe that it was much closer to the surface.
However, according to the ESA’s official report, when the glitch occurred, the Schiaparelli probe was at an altitude of approximately 3.7 kilometers. Note that each step of the landing procedure has been minutely calculated even before the probe was launched into space.
Since the probe does not possess any type of AI which can compensate for glitches such as this one, the success of the mission depends on things going smoothly. However, the thing took a turn for the Schiaparelli probe after the computer glitch occurred.
According to the commission which investigated the incident, after the Schiaparelli probe misread the altitude, it automatically fired its backshell and parachute. Normally, these systems are designed to go off once the probe is closer to the surface in order to ensure a smooth landing.
However, after the system glitch occurred, the probe released the parachute, ejected its backshell and engaged the braking thrusters all in mid-air. As a result, the probe accelerated at a velocity of 540 kilometers per hour and crashed into the Red Planet’s surface.
The Schiaparelli Probe, which bears the name of a famous 19th-century Italian astronomer, was part of a much larger project entitled ExoMars. Together with its companies, the Trace Gas Orbiter, the probe was to collect as much information as possible about the Martian surface before the scheduled manned mission.
Although it seems that the project took quite a hit, ESA wants to continue the project. As a result, starting in 2018 the Trace Gas Orbiter craft will start analyzing potential methane sources on Mars.
The purpose of this project is to determine if there is or was life on the Red Planet. According to the scientific community, the presence of methane is a prime indicative of life on Earth.
Image source: Wikipedia