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Brief update: Opportunity's attempt to image Schiaparelli unsuccessful

Posted By Emily Lakdawalla

19-10-2016 17:35 CDT

Topics: pics of spacecraft in space, Opportunity, mission status, Mars Exploration Rovers, ExoMars TGO, Mars

Today, the Opportunity rover attempted a difficult, never-before-possible feat: to shoot a photo of an arriving Mars lander from the Martian surface. Unfortunately, that attempt seems not to have succeeded. Opportunity has now returned the images from the observation attempt, but science team member and sky-imaging expert Mark Lemmon states "I see nothing but cosmic rays hits in the Pancam images." Cosmic ray hits are bright spots or streaks caused by energetic particles from space striking the camera detector. They're common features in spacecraft images and can usually be discerned by their crisp edges and streaked shape. The Opportunity image below is one of the Schiaparelli imaging attempts that contains a particularly bright cosmic ray hit.

Opportunity's unsuccessful attempt to image Schiaparelli

Opportunity's unsuccessful attempt to image Schiaparelli
The Opportunity rover stared hopefully above the horizon on October 19, 2016 to attempt to spot the Schiaparelli lander under parachute, taking several images, but the attempt was not successful. Some images do have stray specks but, like the one in this image, they are too long and angled wrong to be the European lander.

According to tweets from science team member Barbara Cohen, Opportunity imaging was designed to catch Schiaparelli about 10 seconds after parachute deployment, continuing for about 50 seconds. The imaging was designed to see Schiaparelli on its parachute, just after deployment; it was considered possible but unlikely to see backshell separation. However, because of the ridge to Opportunity's north, the imaging would only have succeeded if Schiaparelli had "gone long" on landing, as most past Mars landers have. Unfortunately, there's no unambiguous sign of Schiaparelli in Opportunity's images, so we'll have to wait until the next press briefing to learn anything more about Schiaparelli's fate.

See other posts from October 2016


Read more blog entries about: pics of spacecraft in space, Opportunity, mission status, Mars Exploration Rovers, ExoMars TGO, Mars


tobadzistsini: 10/19/2016 09:20 CDT

If ExoMars crashed badly and won't function, Opportunity shoud trundle over to the site to investigate the situation.

Messy: 10/20/2016 06:46 CDT

First Juno in safe mode at the absolute wrong time, then this. A very bad week for space exploration. Damn!

Stargazed: 10/20/2016 08:24 CDT

I stared at these images for a while. The only thing that caught my attention was a little blip in image in the upper left corner.

jumpjack: 10/20/2016 09:25 CDT

How are those immages supposed to show anything useful? They are timestamped 13:50 and 14:29, while EDM was scheduled to enter martian atmosphere at 14:42 UTC/Mars, 14:52 UTC/Earth!

Karen: 10/20/2016 10:23 CDT

News reports are saying that it looks like Schiaparelli jetisoned its chutes too soon and only fired its thrusters for 3-4 seconds rather than the ~30 it should have. They don't know why. To me that sounds like it incorrectly decided it was right above the ground (what sort of system does it use for that?). Either way, not much hope for recovery, it probably slammed into the ground at high speed. Chock another meal up for the Ghoul. On the bright side, if it had to happen on a mission, it's good that it happened on this one.

RayGunn: 10/20/2016 11:57 CDT

Actually sounds like the supersonic parachute didn't open entirely or tore. (JPL engineers have experienced this in ground tests but fortunately have always solved it before NASA missions.) This would have caused Schiaparelli to reach lander deployment altitude sooner and at a much higher velocity than intended. The poor lander would have only had a brief few seconds to fire its thrusters before it slammed into the ground. Of course this is only speculation at this point.

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