Scientists downplay likely loss of Mars lander

Associated Press


Scientists at the European Space Agency downplayed the likely loss of its Mars lander, saying Thursday that a wealth of data sent back by the experimental probe would help them prepare for a future mission to the red planet.

The Schiaparelli lander was designed mainly to test technology for a European robotic mission to Mars in 2020 and avoid the fate of Europe’s Beagle 2 probe, which failed to deploy after landing in 2003.

Data received from Schiaparelli show that it entered the atmosphere as planned Wednesday and used its parachute to successfully slow down in the harsh Martian atmosphere, but its signal was lost shortly before the expected touchdown.

Experts said the probe may have descended too fast or too slowly and hoped that about 600 megabytes of data sent back to Earth would provide answers.

“The experimental test has yielded a huge amount of data and clearly we’re going to have to analyze this in the days and weeks to come, but it gives us a lot of confidence for the future,” said David Parker, ESA’s director of human spaceflight and robotic exploration.

Scientists haven’t given up all hope that Schiaparelli might yet phone home. Don McCoy, the manager of the ExoMars project, said attempts will be made to reset the probe’s transceiver but noted that its batteries are only expected to last for a few days.