Mars landing: what happened to the Schiaparelli probe?

The European Space Agency (ESA) is to give more details on Thursday morning (10.00 CET) as to what may have happened to the Schiaparelli probe which was supposed to have landed on Mars.

Contact was lost during its descent on Wednesday afternoon (European time), before it reached the surface.

Scientists are working to confirm its status via data received from other satellites, amid fears the probe may have crashed or been destroyed.

What happened to #Schiaparelli? The signal continued through majority of descent phase but stopped before its expected landing.— Jeremy Wilks (@WilksJeremy) October 19, 2016

But its mothership has entered into orbit as planned and the overall Mars mission is being declared a success:

“Mars is the closest planet to us, where we find some situations which are maybe very good for life. So there was a better atmosphere than today, different temperatures, better temperatures and also liquid water – so if there is life in our solar system beyond the earth, then Mars is the most interesting planet,” said Jan Woerner, the European Space Agency’s Director-General.

Controllers at ESA’s headquarters at Darmstadt in Germany did have reason to celebrate: the spacecraft on which Schiaperelli travelled to Mars went into orbit around the Red Planet successfully.

Press release: #ExoMars ESA_TGO reaches #Mars orbit, ESA_EDM situation under assessment— ESA (@esa) October 19, 2016

The orbiter carries an atmospheric probe to study gases around the planet such as methane – a chemical that on Earth is strongly tied to life.

It’s thought data the orbiter may have received during Schiaparelli’s descent could provide clues as to what has happened to the lander.

“So what do you think happened?” – the question I kept overhearing at ExoMars event this evening. I’m looking forward to find out, too.— Jeremy Wilks (@WilksJeremy) October 19, 2016

The lander is named after Giovanni Schiaparelli, the Italian astronomer who in 1877 began mapping the topography of Mars.

The probe is part of the European-Russian ExoMars programme, which will search for signs of past and present life on the red planet. It represents only the second European attempt to land a craft on Mars. Britain’s Beagle 2 mission ended in failure in 2003.

Euronews correspondent Jeremy Wilks reported from Darmstadt:

“There is a certainly a sense of unfinished business here at ESA operation centre in Germany. We have very good news: the TGO – the Trace Gas Orbiter – has entered into orbit around the red planet, and that’s going to be a very useful spacecraft in terms of science for many years to come.”

The ExoMars 2016 mission is led by the European Space Agency, with Russia’s Roscosmos supplying the launcher and two of the four scientific instruments on the trace gas orbiter.

The joint operation is in preparation for a rover landing on Mars in 2020 – all part of the quest to find signs of life.

Join us tomorrow at 10:00 CEST (08:00 GMT) for a media briefing on the status of #ExoMars ESA_EDM and ESA_TGO— ESA (@esa) October 19, 2016