Europe’s Sending Its Third Probe To Mars — Last Two Blew Up

Andrew Follett | Energy and Science Reporter

The European Space Agency (ESA) will spend another $1.4 billion trying to land a probe on Mars, after its first two probes failed spectacularly.

ESA announced over the weekend it will spend the cash on its planned ExoMars rover, which it hopes will travel across the Martian surface to search for signs of life. The space agency’s two previous attempts to place a probe on Mars ended badly.

ESA’s Schiaparelli lander became a huge smoking crater in October due to a computer glitch. The computer measuring the probe’s rotation malfunctioned, knocking subsequent calculations off track. This problem caused the probe’s parachute, protective heat shield and braking thrusters to all deploy early, crashing the lander into Mars at 335 miles per hour. The crash created a 50-by-130-foot crater about 3.4 miles west of its intended landing site. The resulting crater is visible from space.

Before that, Britain’s Beagle 2 landed safely on Mars in 2003, but the space agency never made contact with it. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter discovered in 2015 that Beagle 2’s solar panels failed to deploy, preventing the craft from operating.

ESA is working with Russia to send a rover to Mars in 2021, but Russia’s space agency has an even worse track record of landing probes on Mars, having failed to do so three times. Russia was heavily involved in the failed Schiaparelli lander as well.

No country besides the U.S. has successfully operated a probe on Mars for longer than 14.5 seconds. NASA has been contionously operating a rover on Mars since 2004. The agency currently has two rovers on Mars, dubbed “Opportunity” and “Curiosity.” America’s space agency successfully landed seven different probes on Mars and only crashed two.

If it’s successful, the 2021 rover will collect and analyze rock samples before transmitting the data back to Earth. ExoMars will be the first European mission actually capable of moving accross the Mars surface. The ESA has previously successfully sent spacecraft to orbit Mars.

Not to be outdone, China also plans on sending a small 400-pound rover to Mars in 2020, as part of its ambitious, military-run, multi-billion dollar space program. NASA will launch its own $2.1 billion dollar nuclear isotope-powered Mars 2020 rover as well.

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Tags : china european space agency exomars mars mars reconnaissance orbiter nasa national aeronautics and space administration russia soviet union
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