Ups and Downs in Spaceflight: Soyuz MS-02 launches, more information on Schiaparelli

First off, the happy news!  Soyuz MS-02 launched successfully from Baikonur Cosmodrome yesterday.  Aboard were Sergey Ryzhikov, Andrei Borisenko, and Shane Kimbrough.  The mission was delayed a month due to technical issues with the spacecraft, but the repaired vehicle is performing well.  They will arrive at the ISS tomorrow; the longer two-day approach was selected to allow more opportunity to test the new Soyuz MS series.

And now the less happy news: ESA has analyzed the data from the Schiaparelli lander, and although they still do not know what happened exactly, they have a better picture and it isn’t good.  The only data they have comes from monitoring of its telemetry during descent.  The entry sequence was nominal through atmospheric entry and parachute deploy, but then events started to deviate.  The signal indicating parachute and backshell jettison came early, and then the engines ignited and the descent radar was switched on.  However, they only appear to have burned for 3-4 seconds, and it isn’t clear whether all nine engines fired, nor what altitude the probe was actually at.  They were expecting the engines to fire for about 30 seconds.  At this point, they do not know whether backshell jettison was too high, or whether something caused a false indication of landing leading to premature engine cutoff (which is what killed Mars Polar Lander), or whether it actually came in much lower than expected, leading to it hitting the ground just a few second after ignition.  They actually got about 600 MB of data during the descent, so they have a lot more data to look at.  But although ESA hasn’t completely given up, it really looks like the lander is dead.  Hopefully the second lander, in two years, will have better fortune; Mars is difficult, extremely difficult, but it rewards persistence.

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