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To Be or Not to Be: ESA Mars Landing Attempt

Universe

Striving to go through extreme heat, supersonic speed, and a complicated algorithm, Schiaparelli spacecraft is going to complete its final maneuver for Mars landing. The touchdown is planned on the 19th of October, and the lander is to conduct some minor research during the following few days. The life span of the device is too short to do anything more.

esa

Through Schiaparelli will take up to 15 black-and-white photos of the Martian surface, this isn’t its main goal. The spacecraft lands to test and demonstrate the technology lying behind an ExoMars rover that is planned to launch from the Earth in 2020.

The current mission is called ExoMars 2016 and it’s a collaboration of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian Roscosmos space agency. The Schiaparelli flight is a part of the program, being launched on 14th of March from the Baikonur Cosmodrome (Kazakhstan). The spacecraft has successfully reached Mars after a 7-month journey and 300 million miles covered.

The landing platform has reached the Martian orbit due to the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) it’s attached to. While the latter executes the algorithm, Schiaparelli temporarily hibernates in order to save battery charge. It will be woken up an hour before the actual Mars landing, going at the speed of 13,050 mph at the altitude of 76 miles.

A part of the landing procedure was already executed on the 16th of October, when the capsule detached from its carrier ship. The actual landing will take place only 6 minutes after entering the atmosphere of the Red Planet. As an analogy to the NASA “7 minutes of terror” (the landing procedure of the Curiosity rover in August, 2012), these 6 minutes will also be terrifying, according to ESA.

landedWhen Schiaparelli reaches the height of 6.8 miles above the surface of the Red Planet and slows down dramatically to the speed of 1,025 mph, it will deploy a parachute that is 39 foot in diameter. To prevent tangling, it will be deployed by triggering a “pyrotechnic activated mortar”.

40 seconds after the deploying, the front shield of the spacecraft will be detached. The back part (where the parachute is attached) will follow once the speed slows down to 155 mph. The Mars landing platform will then be held by three hydrazine thrusters that will control its speed and position. Hovering slowly, the thrusters will be cut when Schiaparelli reaches the height of only 5.6 feet above the surface.

The final touchdown will be made from that height, but the platform doesn’t have to be damaged by the plop due to the special piece of technology attached to its underside. ESA explained this technology absorbs the impact of the touchdown, just as the crumple zone that is used to prevent cars from collision shock.

Schiaparelli will land in the southern hemisphere of the planet. To be more precise, in the Meridiani Planum that is a flat area not far from the Martian equator. The elliptical landing target for the platform is situated near the Endeavour Crater that is being explored by the Opportunity rover from NASA.