European Spacecraft Reaches Mars Orbit, But Lander's Fate Uncertain

Europe succeeded in placing a methane-sniffing spacecraft in orbit around Mars today (Oct. 19), but it's still unclear if that probe's piggyback lander made it safely down to the planet's surface as planned.



The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), part of the European-Russian ExoMars 2016 mission, slipped into orbit around the Red Planet late this morning after completing a crucial engine burn, European Space Agency (ESA) officials said.

"It's all good," ExoMars Flight Operations Director Michel Denis said at a news conference this afternoon. "It's a good spacecraft at the right place, and we have a mission around Mars." [Europe's ExoMars 2016 Landing: Complete Coverage]

But that's just half of the story.

ExoMars 2016's lander, called Schiaparelli, hit the Martian atmosphere as expected at 10:42 a.m. EDT (1442 GMT); however, mission team members are still waiting for a signal to confirm that the craft survived its touchdown six minutes later.

Schiaparelli's signal came in loud and clear as the lander streaked through the Martian atmosphere but stopped shortly before the lander was scheduled to hit the ground, said Paolo Ferri, head of ESA's mission operations department.

"It's clear that these are not good signs, but we will need more information, and that's what's going to happen tonight," Ferri said. "I'm quite confident that tomorrow morning we will know" what happened, he added.

If Schiaparelli did stick its landing, the maneuver would mark the first fully successful Mars touchdown by Europe or Russia — by any entity other than NASA, as a matter of fact.

Resource : http://www.space.com/34451-exomars-mars-arrival-success-landing-uncertainty.html

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