The camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera continues to capture images of the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander on the surface of Mars, revealing new details about the spacecraft’s demise.
By comparing images taken on October 25 and November 1, the camera found the outline of the spacecraft’s parachute had shifted, almost certainly due to winds at the red planet’s surface. Because the HiRISE camera was able to image the crash site through three filters, it was also able to produce a color image of the spacecraft.
The color image shows several bright white spots around the darkened impact site, which are likely pieces of the Schiaparelli spacecraft. Engineers are still assessing other variations in the color image, including a fuzzy, bright area to the west of the impact site, which might be detritus from a subsequent explosion or the decompression of its fuel tanks.
Further imaging of Schiaparelli, its heat shield, and the associated debris should help European engineers better assess the final moments of the doomed lander.
The European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander crashed into Mars on October 19 due to a software error. After a nominal descent through the upper atmosphere, the parachute and back shell were released prematurely, and the spacecraft’s slowing thrusters did not fire for long enough. It crashed at a velocity of more than 300kph.
Listing image by NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona