In Brief
  • Images from NASA suggest that the lander has crash landed, and perhaps even exploded on the surface of the planet.
  • The ESA has not officially confirmed the crash but does fear for the worst.

It looks like the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Schiaparelli Mars Lander entered martian atmosphere and landed with a bang, new images from NASA suggest. Last we heard, the ExoMars Lander entered the atmosphere of Mars at 10:42 am ET (2:42 pm GMT) on October 19 for a supposedly 6-minute descent onto the red planet’s surface.

Shortly after confirmation of entry, the ESA lost contact with the ExoMars lander. Data from the Trace Gas Orbiter, the lander’s mothership, are still being analyzed to understand what really happened.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Before-and-after images from the CTX camera of NASA’s MRO show the possible crash site. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

However, we may have a clue. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) made a pass last October 20 on the supposed landing site on the Meridiani Planum. The photos taken by the MRO’s low-resolution CTX camera show two new features on the surface that weren’t found in similar images taken last May.

The ESA released an official statement this Friday:

Estimates are that Schiaparelli dropped from a height of between 2 and 4 kilometers, therefore impacting at a considerable speed, greater than 300 km/h. The relatively large size of the feature would then arise from disturbed surface material. It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact, as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full. These preliminary interpretations will be refined following further analysis.

While there may be a sliver of room to hope for the best, the evidence is mounting that the lander is likely lost.