The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which is in Mars' orbit, received the data sent from Schiaparelli lander, the ESA confirmed on Wednesday. However, the fate of the Schiaparelli lander, named after the Italian astronomer from the 19th century, is currently still unknown.
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. But the signals stopped shortly before the module was expected to touch down on the surface. It is still unclear if the Schiaparelli lander survived the landing or crashed.
"Following yesterday's events we have an impressive orbiter around Mars ready for science and relay support for the ExoMars rover mission in 2020," said Jan Wörner, ESA's Director General.
The Schiaparelli lander is 577 kg heavy and designed for Mars' rough surface, but it is possible that the module ditched the parachute too early and crashed onto the surface.
David Parker, ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration, said that they could not speculate what exactly happened to the lander.
In terms of the Schiaparelli test module, we have data coming back that allow us to fully understand the steps that did occur, and why the soft landing did not occur. From the engineering standpoint, it's what we want from a test, and we have extremely valuable data to work with. We will have an inquiry board to dig deeper into the data and we cannot speculate further at this time.
The ExoMars project is a joint mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) with a primary goal of finding evidence of life on Mars.
This is the second time Europe started conquering Mars. In 2003, a European probe Mars Express transported mini-lander Beagle 2 to Mars, but it never sent any signals. Beagle 2's fate remained a mystery until January 2015, when it was located intact on the surface of Mars in a series of images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera. The images suggest that two of the spacecraft's four solar panels failed to deploy, blocking the spacecraft's communications antenna.
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