22 Oct 2016

Schiaparelli probe crash-landed on Mars

2:42 pm on 22 October 2016

A probe that should have landed on Mars on Thursday was destroyed when it crashed into the planet at high speed, the European space agency has acknowledged.

There has been contact with the Mars lander Schiaparelli since it behaved unexpectedly during its descent to the Red Planet.

The Schiaparelli lander was destroyed on impact with the red planet. Photo: AFP Photo / European Space Agency / D. Ducros

The agency said the parachute of the Schiaparelli lander was jettisoned too soon and the rockets designed to slow the probe's descent fired for too short a time.

Images taken by a NASA Mars orbiter suggest the missing space probe was destroyed on impact after plummeting to the surface of the red planet from a height of 2-4km, the agency said

The announcement was made by the agency's flight operations manager, Michel Denis.

"Schiaparelli reached the ground with a velocity that was much higher than it should have been, several hundred kilometres per hour, and was then unfortunately destroyed by the impact."

Part of the European space agency's joint venture with the Russians, Schiaparelli was trying to search for evidence of past or present life on Mars..

The disc-shaped 577kg Schiaparelli probe was part of the ExoMars programme to search for evidence of life on Mars.

It descended on Wednesday to test technologies for a rover that scientists hope to send to the surface of the planet in 2020.

But contact with the vehicle was lost less than a minute before the expected landing time, leaving its fate uncertain until the NASA images were received.

It was only the second European attempt to land a craft on Mars, after a failed mission by the British landing craft Beagle 2 in 2003.

- BBC / Reuters