Essential data from the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander sent to its mothership Trace Gas Orbiter during the module’s descent to the Red Planet’s surface yesterday has been downlinked to Earth and is currently being analysed by experts.
Early indications from both the radio signals captured by the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), an experimental telescope array located near Pune, India, and from orbit by ESA’s Mars Express, suggested the module had successfully completed most steps of its 6-minute descent through the martian atmosphere. This included the deceleration through the atmosphere, and the parachute and heat shield deployment, for example.
But the signals recorded by both Pune and Mars Express stopped shortly before the module was expected to touchdown on the surface. Discrepancies between the two data sets are being analysed by experts at ESA’s space operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
The detailed telemetry recorded by the Trace Gas Orbiter was needed to better understand the situation. At the same time as Schiaparelli’s descent, the orbiter was performing a crucial ‘Mars Orbit Insertion’ manoeuvre – which it completed successfully. These important data were recorded from Schiaparelli and beamed back to Earth in the early hours of Thursday morning.