Last month, the European Space Agency (ESA) attempted to successfully land a spacecraft on Mars for the first time as part of the ExoMars mission, a joint venture between ESA and Roscosmos. Unfortunately, contact with the spacecraft was lost during the descent and new color photos from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) all but confirm that the lander crashed and exploded on impact.
On October 19, the mothership successfully deployed the Schiaparelli lander and entered orbit around Mars to study the thin atmosphere. Unfortunately, ESA lost the lander’s signal after it jettisoned its heat shield and parachute. The ExoMars team believes the lander’s retrorockets-designed to slow the spacecraft down enough to safely land-cut out early and left the spacecraft to fall from a distance of more than a mile.
“It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact, as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full,” ESA wrote in an October 21 statement.
The new composite color images from MRO, taken November 1, show a blackened crater surrounded by a few specs of reflective material that are thought to be the remaining bits of the Schiaparelli lander. There is also a curved black line above the main crater, likely created when excess rocket propellant and debris spewed out of the spacecraft and charred the Martian surface.