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'Data glitch' caused demise of Mars lander

Posted on Saturday, 26 November, 2016 | Comment icon 7 comments

The Schiaparelli lander's instruments experienced a computer glitch. Image Credit: ESA
Scientists have finally determined exactly what caused the Schiaparelli probe to crash-land on Mars.
The lander, which separated from the Trace Gas Orbiter as it arrived at Mars back in October, was totally obliterated when it slammed in to the planet's surface at speeds of up to 540 km/h.

Initially there was much confusion over exactly what had gone wrong, but now, following a lengthy investigation by the European Space Agency, the culprit has finally been found.

During its descent, a computer responsible for measuring the probe's rotation speed reached a maximum value which in turn caused the other instruments to glitch out.

Believing itself to be much lower than it actually was, the lander then deployed its parachute and braking thrusters far too early, resulting in it hitting the ground at high speed.

"[T]he erroneous information generated an estimated altitude that was negative," ESA wrote. "That is, below ground level. This in turn successively triggered a premature release of the parachute and the back shell, 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 kilometers."

Despite the setback however, the team behind the mission are thankful that the problem occurred now rather than during the next ExoMars mission which will be landing a rover on Mars in 2021.

With any luck things will go a lot more smoothly next time around.

Source: | Comments (7)

Tags: Mars, Schiaparelli, ExoMars

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Merc14 on 26 November, 2016, 15:44
Sometimes you can as much from a failure as a success. A major flaw has been uncovered and can now be rectified.
Comment icon #2 Posted by paperdyer on 26 November, 2016, 21:53
I wonder if the answer will present itself fairly easily or not. Simulations may not show what happened without a lot of "what if" scenarios.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 27 November, 2016, 11:12
The answer HAS presented itself, that is rather the point of the article.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Derek Willis on 27 November, 2016, 12:34
The article - and you quoted the relevant line - refers to "an unexplained error in the Schiaparelli's lander's Inertial Measurement Unit." Does that not suggest the answer has NOT yet presented itself?
Comment icon #5 Posted by Lucas Cooper Merrin on 27 November, 2016, 23:21
I find it hard to believe! Sounds like a forced answer to a demanding boardroom of investors
Comment icon #6 Posted by highdesert50 on 28 November, 2016, 13:24
Reminiscent of Apollo 11, a computer glitch that almost aborted the landing. Human intervention prevailed and Buzz Aldrin made a difficult landing. AI has a way to go to supercede a risk-taking human who can function outside-the-box.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Derek Willis on 28 November, 2016, 19:44
I think Neil may have helped Buzz with the landing!

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