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Europe's Mars probe crashes seconds before landing: ESA

The tiny disc-shaped lander was part of the Russian-European ExoMars programme to search for evidence of life on the Red Planet. Photograph: (Reuters)

WION Paris, France Oct 22, 2016, 12.29 AM (IST)

Images taken by a NASA Mars orbiter indicate that a missing European space probe dispatched to Mars on a trial run had crashed and exploded on the Red Planet on Friday.

Confirming Europe's second failed attempt to reach the planet, the mission said they lost contact with the Schiaparelli probe 50 seconds before its scheduled touchdown. 

The tiny disc-shaped lander was part of the Russian-European ExoMars programme to search for evidence of life on the Red Planet. 

The European Space Agency said the image contained a white spot, believed to be the lander's parachute spread out on the crash site. The black spot is "larger than it would have been if Schiaparelli was in one piece", flight director Michel Denis told AFP. "It is smashed."

The ESA said the lander's speed-breaking retro-rocket boosters appeared to have switched off prematurely. "Estimates are that Schiaparelli dropped from a height of between two and four kilometres, therefore impacting at a considerable speed, greater than 300 kilometres (186 miles) per hour," it said in a statement. "It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full."

The agency insisted the problems encountered by Schiaparelli were part of the trial-run and would inform the rover design. Its mothership Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) had entered Mars' orbit as planned. 

The pair comprised phase one of a project dubbed ExoMars through which Europe and Russia seek to join the United States in operating a successful rover on Mars. It agency said it would also seek additional funding from European governments for ExMars, due to be launched in 2020.

(WION with inputs from agencies)
 

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