back to article Smoking hole found on Mars where Schiaparelli lander, er, 'landed'

The European Space Agency has spotted what it assumes is what's left of its Schiaparelli lander that smashed into the Martian surface this week. NASA has been helping its European cousin out with use of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO): the satellite's low-resolution CTX camera has picked up two new objects on the surface …

  1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    That reminds me...

    Of playing a game called Lunar Lander (or somesuch) on the University IBM360 back in the mid 70s (on a green raster terminal) - if you crashed into a mountain (as one did frequently) or hit the ground hard, then on the next attempt there was a new crater!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Mushroom

      Re: That reminds me...

      I remember my brother and I played that during a work open house when my mom worked at Control Data. We couldn't figure out how to land cleanly, so after several failed landing attempts resulting in small craters, we started competing to see who could intentionally make the biggest crater.

      1. John Gamble

        Re: That reminds me...

        "... we started competing to see who could intentionally make the biggest crater."

        Wait... your handle is "Marketing Hack". Are you sure you're not an engineer?

      2. macjules Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: That reminds me...

        Bah, humbug! Playing Moonlander on a PDP-11 was one of the earliest things I ever did on a computer.

        1. jeffdyer

          Re: That reminds me...

          Same here, on a visit to the local university maths department with my fried, when we were both in Primary school, so about 1975.

          1. The First Dave

            Re: That reminds me...

            That's nothing - I remember playing Doom on BABY

    2. PNGuinn
      Go

      Re: That reminds me...

      I remember a game like that back in the day with a 3 colour display - played on a teletype terminal that displayed black ASCII text on green and white fanfold paper.

      Shoot 'em up of some kind. If you gave the gun coordinates that aimed it below horizontal and fired the computer helpfully informed you that there were quicker ways to get to Australia than tunnelling.

      Happy days.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: That reminds me...

        For me, it was on a Commodore Vic20. Lunar Lander (on a cartridge) was very hard (and I was only about 7 years old). I can't remember using the machine after that, so my first real computer was a 8086 with Lemmings.

        1. Test Man

          Re: That reminds me...

          Commodore Vic-20 user here too, who ALSO played Lunar Lander via cartridge!

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: That reminds me...

      "Of playing a game called Lunar Lander"

      It could become a new training system for the European Space Agency...

      have they landed on the moon yet? that might be an easier goal, less expensive, with a faster turnaround if they 'crater' another lander...

  2. ma1010
    Alien

    It's WAR

    "Good Evening, Gentlebeings.

    "As we are all aware, the Earthlings have attacked us, bombarding us from space without any warning or provocation on our part. I have ordered our military forces to prepare a massive counter-strike. I now ask you to declare that a state of war has existed between Mars and Earth since the time of the Earthlings' nefarious attack."

    1. Michael Hoffmann

      Re: It's WAR

      Bah!

      The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, I say!

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: It's WAR

        The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, I say!

        Ogilvy, is that you? And why do you sound like Richard Burton?

      2. PNGuinn
        Mushroom

        Re: It's WAR

        OOOH-LA!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Mushroom

      Re: It's WAR

      @ma1010

      Yeah, we like to portray the Martians as the bad guys, always needing our women or heat-raying the English countryside. But you don't see them bombing the Earth from orbit and invading us with nuclear-powered tanks.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: It's WAR

      "Good Evening, Gentlebeings.

      Even "listening" to that in my head, that just doesn't sound like the type phraseology that the Mysterons would use.

      OO

      1. Danny 14

        Re: It's WAR

        Million to one say you? Everyone knows THOSE odds come true 9 times out of 10.

      2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: It's WAR @John Brown

        "EARTHMEN, WE ARE PEACEFUL BEINGS AND YOU HAVE TRIED TO DESTROY US, BUT YOU CANNOT SUCCEED. YOU AND YOUR PEOPLE WILL PAY FOR THIS ACT OF AGGRESSION. THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. OUR REVENGE WILL BE SLOW BUT NONETHELESS EFFECTIVE. IT WILL MEAN THE ULTIMATE DESTRUCTION OF LIFE ON EARTH. IT WILL BE USELESS FOR YOU TO RESIST, FOR WE HAVE DISCOVERED THE SECRET OF REVERSING MATTER, AS YOU HAVE JUST WITNESSED. ONE OF YOU WILL BE UNDER OUR CONTROL. YOU WILL BE INSTRUMENTAL IN AVENGING THE MYSTERONS. OUR FIRST ACT OF RETALIATION WILL BE TO ASSASSINATE YOUR WORLD PRESIDENT."

    4. Mike Moyle

      Re: It's WAR

      Alternatively:

      F'Narxbothamly Smythe (In three-legged tweed plus-fours, to his friend S'kizzx Pertwee-Jones): Good shot, old tharthnag! You took it on the wing!

    5. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge

      Re: It's WAR

      "Good shooting, Captain".

      "Thank you, General. The Mars Strategic Defence System is now fully functional. They gave us enough warning with their drone attacks: we are now fully prepared to repulse a manned invasion."

      "The Emperor will be pleased."

  3. JosephEngels

    Europeans call it a "scientific mission" ... Martians believe it to be a bombing run ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Mushroom

      Europeans call it a "scientific mission"

      The Europeans were just envious that Beagle 2 had been a glorious, glorious British failure, and wanted to show that they could do that too.

      Of course, being a pan-European pork project, the €230m cost of the Schiaparelli lander is about double the (rebased) £66m that Beagle 2 cost, proving that the Europeans can do anything anybody else can, just twenty years later and at double the cost.

      1. EddieD

        "The Europeans were just envious that Beagle 2 had been a glorious, glorious British failure, and wanted to show that they could do that too."

        I read on the Guardian (so it may well have been a misprint) that Beagle 2 actually landed okay, but then failed to deploy its solar panels

        https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/16/lost-beagle-2-spacecraft-found-mars

    2. macjules Silver badge

      "Smoking hole found on Mars where Schiaparelli lander, er, 'landed': slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth'. A Capita QA Tester, who failed to test perchance?

  4. Peter Clarke 1

    It's WAR!

    Who you gonna call??

    1 Duck Dodger of the 24 1/2 century to deal with Marvin the Martian

    OR

    2 Captain Scarlet to deal with the Mysterons

    1. Dr. Ellen
      Trollface

      Re: It's WAR!

      Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! (The probe is dead, afterall.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Joke

        Re: It's WAR!

        Its not dead, its just pining for the fjords

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's WAR!

          Pining for the fjords? Just call Slartibartfast...

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: It's WAR!

          "Its not dead, its just pining for the fjords"

          and still nailed to its perch [which must be what b0rked the landing operation]

    2. Death Boffin
      Alien

      Re: It's WAR!

      Slim Whitman?

    3. PNGuinn
      Coat

      Re: It's WAR! @PC1

      3 Marvin the paranoid Android

      4 Disaster Area

  5. Dwarf Silver badge

    Metric and imperial

    I wonder if someone got their metres per second confused with their kilometres per hour again.

    Direct from NASA's Some Famous Unit Conversion Errors doc

    1. TitterYeNot

      Re: Metric and imperial

      "I wonder if someone got their metres per second confused with their kilometres per hour again."

      After ESA's rather scathing criticism of the management of the Beagle 2 project, I can almost hear Colin Pillinger's gentle chuckle at the thought that at least his lander made it to the surface of Mars in one piece without making a bloody great crater in a Martian hillside.

      In all seriousness though, not having a go at ESA. This stuff has to be tried, failure can gain more knowledge for future missions than success if enough telemetry is recorded.

      At the end of the day, rocket science isn't easy, rocket engineering is hard, and interplanetary rocket engineering is really, really ******* difficult...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Metric and imperial

        "interplanetary rocket engineering is really, really ******* difficult..."

        I was just watching a documentary about the Voyager probes last night (recorded, not sure when it was broadcast) and it's still amazing to me that not only is it in our lifetime (well, some of us here anyway, youngsters need not apply) that the three body problem was solved but the guy was still around to be interviewed. Closely followed by an interview with the guy who then used that solution to come up with the trajectories and launch dates for The Grand Tour (amongst 100's of other possible planetary missions.

        Ah here it is, Voyager: To the Final Frontier

        1. JeffyPoooh
          Pint

          Re: Metric and imperial ... "...three body problem was solved..."

          JBnb "...three body problem was solved..."

          That statement implies that the three-body problem has been "solved".

          You got my attention with that. Did I miss the memo?

          History: Bruns and Poincaré showed in 1887 that there is no general analytical solution for the three-body problem. Sundman proved the existence of a convergent infinite series solution to the three-body problem in 1906-1909, but they're impractical due to slow convergence.

          Since then, some specific exceptions to the three-body problem have been found, up to 16 of them in 2013. But these are mathematical curiosities that have nothing to do with gravity assists.

          Nothing general has been 'solved' in the maths sense. Presently only (very accurate) numerical approximations are possible.

          The concept of a gravity assist is a two-body problem, but getting it lined-up precisely in our solar system is an n-body problem.

          If gravity assist were performed around a lonely isolated body in deep space, then it's clear that the maneuver itself could be, in theory, isolated to just two bodies.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Metric and imperial ... "...three body problem was solved..."

            "That statement implies that the three-body problem has been "solved".

            You got my attention with that. Did I miss the memo?"

            I'm sure you are correct. It may be the documentary got it wrong or, more likely, I was distracted by other stuff and didn't hear it correctly. Maths is not my strong point.

            1. JeffyPoooh
              Pint

              Re: Metric and imperial ... "...three body problem was solved..."

              You've got me interested enough to dig further. Thank you for that.

              I found an excerpt of the video, and yes, they do use the phrase 'solved the three-body problem'.

              But it's obvious that the meaning of the word 'solved' has drifted a bit since 1887.

              A very good ref (being a summary of the same video) is here:

              http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-20033940

              Minovitch used "...the IBM 7090 computer to home in on a solution using a method of iteration." In other words, he was (obviously, as stated, and based on the computer time required) doing a numerical solution or simulation.

              It's all very wonderful, but it reminds of when I couldn't 'solve' an exercise problem in calculus, so I banged up a quick BASIC program to estimate the answer numerically. That 'solved' the exercise, but I certainly didn't 'solve' the equation.

              Under the Wiki entry for the 'Three-Body Problem' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-body_problem), the name Michael Minovitch is listed under 'See Also'.

              If Minovitch had 'solved' it, he would be mentioned more prominently on the page.

              It all gets back to the meaning of 'solved'.

              Nitpicking. I hope I don't come across as too negative. :-)

              Minovitch certainly deserves full credit and honours for his excellent work.

        2. DavCrav

          Re: Metric and imperial

          "I was just watching a documentary about the Voyager probes last night (recorded, not sure when it was broadcast) and it's still amazing to me that not only is it in our lifetime (well, some of us here anyway, youngsters need not apply) that the three body problem was solved but the guy was still around to be interviewed."

          In what sense has the three-body problem been solved? In the 19th century it was shown that there is no general solution to the three-body problem.

          Since you are talking about the Grand Tour, Wikipedia suggests you mean Gary Flandro, who satisfies two conditions for being the person you are talking about: 1) he is alive, and 2) he noticed the alignment that allowed the Grand Tour to take place. But of course, since Pluto wasn't discovered until 1930, it would be difficult to know this until after that date.

          Edit: Having seen other comments now, it appears people are talking about Michael Minovitch. His Wikipedia page is full of incorrect statements about the three-body problem, but because of that inaccurate BBC documentary, they are referenced, so the fact they are false is not that important...

      2. Jonathan Richards 1
        Mushroom

        Re: Metric and imperial

        Given that this was a trial for a method of soft landing on Mars, those few blackened pixels must make uncomfortable viewing for Mars One candidates.

    2. Captain DaFt

      Re: Metric and imperial

      "I wonder if someone got their metres per second confused with their kilometres per hour again."

      If I recall correctly (too lazy to look it up), the probe was supposed to drop the last 30 metres and let the crushable bit adsorb the force.

      So falling from about 3* kilometres does sound like someone misplaced a decimal point.

      *They keep tap dancing around that number by stating 2-4 kilometres. Guilty conscience?

      1. CanadianMacFan
        FAIL

        Re: Metric and imperial

        So it's obviously the team who was responsible for the crushable bit that is at fault for not planning to take into account this easily foreseeable mistake and not take the proper actions to deal with it.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    thick enough to heat up objects....At the same time it's too tenuous to allow a soft landing by parachutes.

    Which they've known for a loooonngg time.

    Lucky they're only spending taxpayer's money, eh?

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken
      Pint

      How about I buy you a couple of pints which should be ample compensation for your share of 'taxpayer's money' that went into this mission, and you just shut up?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        How about I buy you a couple of pints which should be ample compensation for your share of 'taxpayer's money' that went into this mission, and you just shut up?

        Perhaps unintentionally, you make yourself sound like a thin-skinned millennial, unable to deal with views contradicting your own narrow personal view.

        How about I offer you a skinny soya latte and a goatee trim, and you accept that I'm entitled to observe that I don't agree with ESA concept "oh well, shit happens on Mars, can we have another quarter of a billion euro please?"

        After sneering at Beagle 2, and having seen the previous problems that NASA have had to address on Mars, the ESA have no excuse for it not working.

    2. DNTP

      Space exploration is one of the few things a government can spend money on that is strongly, arguably, of benefit to the entire human species. Going to the moon, for example, was far more than a stunt- even the most rational critics would have to concede that there was real economic benefit from the surge in science and technology far greater than the monetary cost of the programs themselves.

      To put it in perspective: In 2016 NASA had a budget of $19.3 billion, of which I will personally pay $60-70 out of my income, which is paying for a few minutes of a fellow scientist's time or a few little parts that are going to end up exploring another planet. The 2008 AIG bailout of $180 billion cost me personally about $300, which for all I know went directly into some billionaire's overseas nontaxable bank account.

      1. JLV

        And 50% of your 2016 space money will have gone up into the ISS and manned missions, not very much at all ends up in interplanetary unmanned missions like this - or space telescopes and observation satellites - where the real science is happening. After looking it up, I am actually surprised only half goes to manned missions nowadays, I guess they are reprioritizing - guess junking the Shuttle freed up $$$ ;-).

        Don't take this as anti-space - I am just annoyed we haven't done much real innovation with things like ion drives, solar sails or asteroid mining. If it wasn't for SpaceX and its ilk, we're still mostly using Saturn-era tech, funding Skylab2 and aiming to waste massive $$$$$$ on one-time manned Mars trips .

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Probably

    Was one of those metric conversion things. Like the motor was rated in pounds of thrust, and the software thought Newtons...

    1. Jos V

      Re: Probably

      Leave the Americans with the pounds of thrust, even though "officially" NASA is working only metric. More to do with the fact that everything is build by contractors and subcontractors for them.

      In Europe it's metric. Why would you use a unit of mass (pounds, bah) for a measure of thrust anyways? If you'd be talking about kg of thrust in Europe, I don't think many people would take you serious anymore. Not in the scientific community anyways.

      I do hope they find out what happened here. Shame it failed, but I'm sure it'll be another lesson learned.

      1. JLV

        Re: Probably

        You kinda wonder, even with contractors, why imperial measures would get mixed into engineering.

        Once you get into the of cross-unit stuff like distance over time squared (aka acceleration) times mass (thrust) then imperials gets you into weird things like slugs - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slug_(mass). At that point non-10 factors make it so that things start getting very confusing, even for people who grew up with feet and pounds (let alone stones). Imperial is just not very coherent for engineering though I am sure you can get used to it.

        This is from personal experience doing engineering studies in the States - we had 2 obligatory weeks of do-it-in-imperial and _everyone_ hated it, even the merkins.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Probably

          You kinda wonder, even with contractors, why imperial measures would get mixed into engineering.

          Improper definition in the spec. There should be a *BIG* section at the front that says "This document uses the following terms and convention as described". And one of those is "All units are in metric unless otherwise explicitly defined".

          Of course, that presupposes that all the subcontractors get the whole document and actually read it..

  8. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    4 Kelvin Moles? What on earth (mars?) is that measuring? Energy density of impact?

    1. PNGuinn
      Joke

      4 Kelvin Moles?

      Nah - simple spelling error.

      Impact woke up a family of Martian moles called Kevin.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: 4 Kelvin Moles?

        Grampa: "The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it!"

        1. DavCrav

          Re: 4 Kelvin Moles?

          "Grampa: "The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it!""

          Your car gets seriously shit mileage then. 40 rods is a couple of hundred yards. A hogshead is about 50 gallons.

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: 4 Kelvin Moles?

            Your car gets seriously shit mileage then. 40 rods is a couple of hundred yards. A hogshead is about 50 gallons.

            Never driven an American car then?

  9. sjsmoto
    IT Angle

    For the IT angle, perhaps they'll name this new crater Foo.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So far the precedent for crashed landers has been to name the new crater after the object that made it, granted there already is a Schiaparelli Crater so maybe this would be New Schiaparelli Crater.

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        IT Angle

        Schiaparelli Crater 2.0

        Obviously

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Schiaparelli Crater 2.0

          SchiSPLATirelli.

          (I'm sorry.)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beagle 2

    At least we now know Mars landings can foul up even when not done on the cheap. Pity Prof. Pillinger didn't live long enough to know that he wasn't the only one.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Beagle 2

      The good Prof did know that his wasn't the only Mars mission to fail. The Soviets took a few stabs at it before the US succeeded with Viking.

  11. LDS Silver badge
    Joke

    "primary purposes was to act as a test run for a more ambitious landing"

    Ambitious? In the sense of an even bigger crater next time?

  12. Andy Non Silver badge
    Coat

    Malfunction now explained...

    As the probe was descending, its Windows software did an unexpected upgrade to Windows 10 and rebooted the probe...

    1. JLV
      Trollface

      Re: Malfunction now explained...

      >Windows 10

      That solves the telemetry problem at least ; - )

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Andy Nonsense Re: Malfunction now explained...

      "......Windows 10......" ESA is one of the minute number of SPARC licensees, which means their latest failure was much more likely to be a case of Slowaris turning into Freefallaris (finally, a Slowaris variant that actually gets up to speed!).

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Andy Nonsense Malfunction now explained...

        Mister Bryant, please! Still triggered by a mention of Sparc like a Pavlovian Doge after all these years. Don't you have some IBM overpriced software to laud?

        Anyway, according to this little overview, the EDM is composed of two parts:

        1) RTPU: "Remote Terminal & Power Unit installed on the underside of the Surface Platform and in charge of the Entry, Descent and Landing Sequence, not designed to survive the impact at landing as its job end at the shutdown of the landing engines." Interestingly, it seems to have no CPU, just FPGA logic .... ?

        2) CTPU: "Central Terminal & Power Unit that is tasked with commanding all lander subsystems during surface operations, also directing power from the batteries to all powered components. It handles all onboard sequences, accepts science and housekeeping data, stores data and conditions data uplinks via UHF. The CTPU is built around a LEON Central Processor that represents the heart of a Processor Module which also hosts RAM and PROM memory, the onboard timer, a watchdog timer system, power converters and data input/output interfaces."

        Very nice.

        It seems that a LEON is "a 32-bit CPU microprocessor core, based on the SPARC-V8 RISC architecture and instruction set. It was originally designed by the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), part of the European Space Agency (ESA), and after that by Gaisler Research. It is described in synthesizable VHDL ... The LEON project was started by the European Space Agency (ESA) in late 1997 to study and develop a high-performance processor to be used in European space projects. The objectives for the project were to provide an open, portable and non-proprietary processor design, capable to meet future requirements for performance, software compatibility and low system cost. Another objective was to be able to manufacture in a Single event upset (SEU) sensitive semiconductor process. To maintain correct operation in the presence of SEUs, extensive error detection and error handling functions were needed. The goals have been to detect and tolerate one error in any register without software intervention, and to suppress effects from Single Event Transient (SET) errors in combinational logic.

        And also:

        The Real-time operating systems that support the LEON core are currently RTLinux, PikeOS, eCos, RTEMS, Nucleus, ThreadX, OpenComRTOS, VxWorks (as per a port by Gaisler Research), LynxOS (also per a port by Gaisler Research), POK[ (a free ARINC653 implementation released under the BSD licence) and ORK+ an open-source real-time kernel for high-integrity real-time applications with the Ravenscar Profile.

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Destroy All Monsters Re: Andy Nonsense Malfunction now explained...

          ".....Still triggered by a mention of Sparc....." LOL, you posted with a mouthful of hook, line and sinker, I see.

          "....Don't you have some IBM overpriced software to laud?....." Duh - why would I be defending M$ if I was an It's Being Mended software salesgrunts?

          ".....RTLinux, PikeOS, eCos, RTEMS, Nucleus, ThreadX, OpenComRTOS, VxWorks (as per a port by Gaisler Research), LynxOS (also per a port by Gaisler Research), POK[ (a free ARINC653 implementation released under the BSD licence) and ORK+ an open-source real-time kernel for high-integrity real-time applications with the Ravenscar Profile." So nothing at all to do with Windows then.

  13. oldtaku
    Trollface

    Ouch, ESA is just cursed with the landings, though they do fantastic with the orbiters.

    It'll be fairly humiliating if even India gets their lander there first.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      To be fair, about 50% of Mars missions (by all nations) have failed on one way or another. I will grant however that ESA are not improving that average.

      Apparently there seemed to be a lot of out-gassing while Schiaparelli was in transit to Mars. I have to wonder if they had a leak in the fuel system, and hence most of the fuel required to slow the probe down is now in orbit between here and there.

  14. Christoph
    Joke

    At least the lithobraking worked.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Trollface

      Well it is hell-bent on not breaking its 100% efficiency record.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It would be so cool of Larry Niven's stasis fields in which time stands still were real (pity they require FTL signalling at least to not deform in the slightest when physical action is performed on them)

        1) Gonna land!

        2) Don't even bother to decelerate, just go for the bullseye with interplanetary speed

        3) Switch on stasis field

        4) ???

        5) Wait an appropriate amount of time to let the lava around the crater cool down

        6) Somehow (Niven never explains how) the field is switched off automagically from inside

        7) Drive off leisurly

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          5) Wait an appropriate amount of time to let the lava around the crater cool down

          Then take out several large mortgages to pay for the damage you just did to someones field of petunias.. (hmmm.. petunias. Best served with a side dish of whale tartare..)

      2. imanidiot Silver badge
        Joke

        @ Pascal Monett:

        It's not the fall that killed it, it's the sudden stop at the end

  15. Jan 0
    Alert

    Some celebration due.

    Let's hope that the temperature profile from the impact and explosion was sufficient to sterilise the probe. However, we've already dumped enough microbes on Mars to make it certain that we're going to find life somewhere on Mars.

    I know that great care is taken to try and build the landers aseptically, but since they're not prepared to actually sterilise them*, it's inevitable that Mars is being inoculated with Terrestrial microbes. Maybe we shouldn't be dropping landers on Mars until we've thoroughly thought through the consequences? Well, we're just human, so I don't think that's going to happen.

    *Okeh, it's a hard call to build a working lander that would allow you to sterilise the whole caboodle, no matter how inaccessible the interior. For example, you could use steam for 15 minutes at 121 C, dry heat for 3 hours at 160 C, a high concentration of ozone or ethylene oxide for a couple of hours, or tens of kGy of gamma radiation.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Some celebration due.

      Our unit on Curiosity was sterilised at 200°C and also with ozone. Yes that made it much harder than normal deep space stuff.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Some celebration due.

        AC wrote "Our unit on Curiosity was sterilised at 200°C and also with ozone."

        Oh, you're supposed to do that?

        Look. I'm a multi-billionaire, and a bit bored. A couple years ago we secretly launched an old barn find 1945 Volkswagen Kübelwagen carcass towards Mars. Our EDL system is programmed to gently place it just a few hundred meters in front of the Curiosity rover, just around the next bend. It should be there by next week. We didn't sterilize anything. In fact, we left some old bones and a human skull on what's left of the seat. You know, to add to the mystery.

        So, ah, sterilization you say, ah... Oops. Sorry.

  16. psychonaut

    Hi res not needed

    The big object is clearly the remains of a whale and the smaller looks like petunias....

  17. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    Well, it DID land..

    .. just a bit more forcefully than planned.

    On the plus side, that's one hole that doesn't need to be drilled by the next one :)

  18. Lee D

    So we can make drones that can beat Earth's gravity, fly around like lunatics and be computer controlled for less than a tenner...

    But nobody has applied the science of actual aeronautics to something intended to land elsewhere? Why are we not sending GLIDERS instead of trying to aim at the damn planet in a straight line and hope we can slow ourselves down.

    Literally, send something that needs NO POWER to land, that's been well-tested, that you can simulate easily (air turbine pointing up in a sealed chamber full of whatever gas!), that can descend in a spiral and even ASCEND if it's required and it can find the right breeze to do it, simple, low-tech, can be controlled by a box big enough to fit inside a micro-drone and carry a lot of weight (e.g. hang-gliders).

    No complicated pressure-sensing altitude setup required, no decision on when to fire the boosters or drop the cargo, just a huge wing shape and a little flap here and there to make it spin round.

    Why are space shuttles plane-shaped with wings and aerodynamics and thrusters "behind" that are not used in descent, and circular and looping gliding paths for landing, but everything we send to other planets is always a huge box with thrusters on the bottom trying to slow itself down from stupendous speeds in a straight line aimed right at the damn planet?

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Descending from mars orbit wouldn't be soo bad if it weren't for the speeds involved. In other words, starting from stationary on the surface of mars, yes we could fairly easily create devices that could fly - while the atmospheric density is rather low, so is the gravity.

      The difficulty is slowing down from orbital speeds, which even in this relatively sedate instance was 1700 kph, and doing this at the same time as controlling the rate of descent.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Why are we not sending GLIDERS "

      The word "tenuous" is used to describe the Martian atmosphere for a reason. It's not far short of being a vacuum. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, "Mars; atmosphere is thin. Really, really thin. In fact it's so thin if it turned sideways it'd disappear"

      1. the Jim bloke Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Larry Niven short story collection Tales of Known Space - Eye of the Octopus

        Described martian atmoshere as

        'almost thick enough to be poisonous'

        being a sci-fi story written back in 1966 it may be subject to exaggeration for effect, and inaccuracy, but it has stayed with me since the (much later) time I read it.

        It is also possible I am mis-remembering or mis-attributing the quote, as I dont have access to the source material while at work.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: Larry Niven short story collection Tales of Known Space - Eye of the Octopus

          I remember an article by Wherner von Braun about a Mars expedition. The (large, manned, chromium rocketship) had (very large) wings to perform a smooth landing. Not sure what the assumed atmospheric pressure on Mars.

          1. cray74

            Re: Larry Niven short story collection Tales of Known Space - Eye of the Octopus

            Not sure what the assumed atmospheric pressure on Mars.

            It was thought to be around 1/15th the pressure of Earth's atmosphere from the 1920s to 1960s until the Mariner 4 flyby in 1967.

    3. imanidiot Silver badge

      LeeD,

      You are talking about literally a supersonic glider in a low pressure atmosphere. I suggest you look up the Perlan project (there are some articles on it here on the Reg too). It's like making a glider fly here on earth in the very upper atmosphere. With a ground speed measured in the hundreds of meters per second. You are NOT going to make a smooth landing on Mars with those sorts of speeds.

      Also, ask yourself this. If the space shuttle was such a great idea, why are all the space systems currently in development for transporting humans on the "fall into the atmosphere at stupendous speed with the blunt end forward" approach? Making something fall from space to the surface is a massive challenge. Doing so in a controlled glide even more so. Doing it in the "just thick enough to be called an atmosphere" atmosphere of mars is something "we" have so far not solved yet. So the "stupid" approach of just strapping a rocket to the back of the payload and crossing our fingers it works is pretty much the only approach we have available at this time for a payload of any appreciable mass.

    4. cray74

      No complicated pressure-sensing altitude setup required, no decision on when to fire the boosters or drop the cargo, just a huge wing shape and a little flap here and there to make it spin round.

      Winged reentry requires an enormous amount of decision making to control pitch, yaw, and rotation in a way to avoid incinerating the vehicle. At every major velocity transition (hypersonic to supersonic to subsonic), control response and aerodynamic behavior changes enormously.

      Further, hitting the target is not a trivial exercise in navigation. A typical shuttle atmospheric entry targeting Cape Kennedy saw the shuttle make its de-orbit burn over the Indian Ocean; atmospheric entry began over Hawaii; the shuttle would still be traveling at mach 18 as it crossed over California; and it would only drop to supersonic speeds over Florida's east coast. Slight errors in "energy management" over the Pacific ocean could see a shuttle drop subsonic tens of miles over the Atlantic ocean. The landing was an incredible exercise in numerous navigational aids and constant control inputs from computers and pilots, who had to complete 1000 simulated landings before they were allowed into a real shuttle cockpit.

      but everything we send to other planets is always a huge box with thrusters on the bottom trying to slow itself down from stupendous speeds

      There's a lot of reasons for that. First of all, any probe approaching from Mars is going to be approaching the planet at stupendous speeds because you have to travel fast to cross interplanetary distances. The usual approach velocity is in the vicinity of a planet's escape velocity.

      Upon getting close to Mars, you then have a problem with halting. Mars offers the convenience of an atmosphere for aerobraking, saving the enormous fuel mass that would be required to slow from ~13,000mph approach speed to a ~7,000mph low Mars orbital velocity. Unless you supply ludicrous amounts of fuel, a conventional capsule reentry or your glider is going to hit Mars' atmosphere fast.

      Given the situation, the simplest means of getting to Mars' surface is a reentry capsule. The terminal velocity is too high to depend on aerodynamic drag alone, so after getting as much braking from the capsule as possible you switch to parachutes. Parachutes are inadequate for a soft landing in Mars' thin atmosphere, so you switch over to rockets (Viking landers, Phoenix, Curiosity) or air bags (Spirit/Opportunity, Sojourner.)

      in a straight line aimed right at the damn planet?

      The re-entry systems of modern Mars probes do not have to follow "straight lines." The Curiosity rover used a steered, lifting entry like Gemini, Apollo, Soyuz, and Dragon capsules. Curiosity achieved a landing ellipse of only 20 x 7 kilometers, compared to the purely ballistic 160 x 15km of Spirit and Opportunity.

      Why are space shuttles plane-shaped with wings and aerodynamics

      Space shuttles are plane-shaped with wings and aerodynamics because they were expected to land on an inhabited planet with numerous airports available as emergency landing sites. The shape was selected to keep re-entry G-forces below 3Gs since it was expected the shuttle would allow large numbers of personnel to access space, including people who were less than maximally fit.

      The particular aerodynamics were also selected under USAF pressure to support "once around" polar flights, during which time the launch site would've rotated 1500 miles. It was not easy to include enough fuel for a 1500-mile propulsive correction, but with the correct hypersonic aerodynamics the shuttle could achieve a 1500-mile "cross range" during reentry.

      But the biggest point of the wings was that they gave a bit of added safety when carrying passengers in that no landing engines were required and no parachutes needed to deploy. They were passively functioning lifting surfaces. Basically, they were most critical in about the last 10 minutes of a shuttle's flight and useless deadweight at other times.

      These features came with a number of penalties. The wings were large and massive, greatly cutting into payload capacity. The "Shuttle-C", a wingless, disposable, unmanned version of the shuttle, could carry 75 tons into orbit versus the 25 tons of the regular shuttle. The high-cross range reentry required exposure to more extreme temperatures than a simpler lifting profile. As a result, the shuttle was forced into brittle, maintenance-intensive heat shield materials that were partly the Columbia's doom. (And the shuttle never used such cross-range capacity.) A simpler flight profile would've allowed more robust metal heat shields.

      and thrusters "behind" that are not used in descent,

      The shuttles used their orbital maneuvering system for an average of 2.5 minutes during their reentry procedure, applying 0.1G for that period to lower orbital velocity by ~150m/s. Their reaction control systems thrusters were used for an average of 3 minutes following initial atmospheric interface, after which aerosurfaces had sufficient control authority to handle maneuvering. In the case of the Columbia disaster, the RCS thrusters later reactivated because the shuttle was becoming difficult to handle with control surfaces alone.

      and circular and looping gliding paths for landing,

      The shuttle didn't loop around; to do so would've required jet engines that were deleted early in the design process. It's hypersonic glide ratio was 1:1 (1 foot forward, 1 foot down); its supersonic glide ratio was 2:1, and its subsonic glide ratio was 4.5:1. For comparison, non-gliders like the 747 can achieve 15:1, while sailplanes may exceed 50:1. In short, the shuttle glided like a brick, which was a result of its compromises to operate in hypersonic, supersonic, and subsonic modes while still being protected from the enormous heat of hypersonic flight. This performance meant there was no time to loop and circle.

      When landing at Cape Kennedy, the shuttle made one ~90-degree turn (from an eastern heading to a northern one) to line up with the existing landing strips at Kennedy. The other landing sites utilized by the shuttle program usually had east-west landing strips, like White Sands. Basically, the shuttle dove out of space like a mildly controlled cannon ball.

  19. PNGuinn
    Pint

    It's all about cost saving

    Mission 1. Spend a substantial fortune landing a lump of scrap on a not so distant planet to prove we're cleverer than the Septics.

    Mission 2. Repeat exercise and get it to drill a bloody deep hole.

    Bean Counter: Can't you drill the bloody big hole on the first mission and save cost ofthe second?

    Pointy headed boss: .....

    BOFH: ....

    I wonder if there's any quicklime at the bottom of that crater?

  20. Stevie

    Bah!

    "The Europeans aren't going to be too cut up about the failed landing. Schiaparelli was only supposed to last a few days anyway, and one of its primary purposes was to act as a test run for a more ambitious landing later."

    So, assuming the next mission is to make an even bigger hole in Mars we are good to go.

    Of course this is a disaster. If you can't stick the landing reliably the years of work and millions of Euros are wasted. Just ask the scientists who fought tooth and nail for a place on the experiment design team.

    I'm glad to see we no longer sweat that whole "Earth stuff contamination" thing though.

  21. disorder

    http://exploration.esa.int/mars/58425-preparing-to-land-on-mars/

    "At the base of the module is a crushable structure"

    I think it can be argued that, as a technology test it has in fact over-achieved and exceeded 100% success.

  22. MatsSvensson

    Future site of gift shop and 2 burger-joints.

  23. ad47uk

    Maybe they will give up now and stop wasting money on this, there is enough on Mars now, they can do the work and if America wants to send anything else to it let them.

    Europe have proved that they can not land anything on Mars, so stop wasting money.

    1. cray74

      Europe have proved that they can not land anything on Mars, so stop wasting money.

      The US required 7 attempts to successfully hit the moon (no controlled landing attempt) with the Ranger program. The Ranger probes were only meant to snap and transmit pictures as they fell toward the moon. The first two were launch failures, the next three all had spacecraft failures (two missed the moon all together), and the sixth had its cameras fail. Only 3 of the 9 probes worked. The follow-on Surveyor program had 2 of 7 probes fail.

      It takes time, money, and experience to land on a planet or moon. It also requires a willingness to try more than twice. What's the saying?

      "The meek shall inherit the Earth. The rest of us are going to the stars."

  24. deconstructionist

    was it using..

    Eon Musk autonomous landing system for his death ride to mars project..... still nice to see we keeping that 50'% failure rate for mars adventures .

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: was it using..

      Everyone going to Mars must be sterilized. All crew and passengers must be baked at 200°C for an hour and blasted with ozone.

      Because we don't want to contaminate Mars when Capt Zaphod Beeblebrox crashes Musk's 'Heart of Gold' Whale Meat and Petunia Ark into the surface at 2,000 kmh.

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