Press release archive: 2016

Hope of receiving weather information from two locations on Mars is waning

22.10.2016 15:21

The ExoMars Schiaparelli probe of the European Space Agency ESA landed on Mars at 17.48 on 19.10. but it has not been possible to establish a connection with the lander after this. Part of the research equipment carried by the lander was provided by the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) for measuring the pressure and humidity in the Martian atmosphere.

Photo: ESA

Photo: ESA

Schiaparelli, which weighs about 600 kg, managed to land on the surface of Mars after a seven-month journey in space. We know that the landing was successful at least until the parachutes opened. The data transmitted by the lander ended about 50 seconds before the expected touchdown, by which time the retro-rockets had been working for a couple of seconds and the parachute should have been detached. No radio signal has been received from the lander since these final moments of its landing. ‘It is not yet quite clear what happened,' says Timo Nikkanen, Researcher at the FMI. Both Mars Express and the TGO and MRO satellites continue listening for signals during the next few days and are ready to receive data from Schiaparelli, if a radio connection is formed.

The mothership of the Schiaparelli lander (TGO – a Trace Gas Orbiter), on the other hand, is successfully orbiting Mars and will continue its research operation for the next five years. "There will be a lot to learn from yesterday's landing once all telemetric data from the lander has been analysed. The FMI, too, got information about the functionality of new technologies. The new type of pressure sensors and the measurement computer in DREAMS-P have been proven to endure the journey to Mars and they can therefore be used in the ExoMars 2020 lander and other future Mars landers," says Researcher Timo Nikkanen. 

The lander's most important task was to test the landing technique that will be used in the landing of the first European Mars rover in 2020. The FMI will provide measurement devices also for the ExoMars 2020 lander.

Martian atmospheric pressure and humidity measured with Finnish instruments

Schiaparelli carried the DREAMS research equipment used for observing the Martian atmosphere. The FMI-developed DREAMS-P and DREAMS-H devices measuring the atmospheric pressure and humidity were part of this equipment. Sensor technology from the Finnish company Vaisala Oyj also flew to Mars inside the pressure and humidity instruments.  The FMI has previously operated similar equipment carried by, for example, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity (2012–) and the Mars Phoenix lander (2008).
"Unfortunately, it seems that we will still miss the simultaneous pressure and humidity measurements from two different locations on the surface of Mars. However, NASA's Curiosity continues to function and take measurements, so we still receive measurement data for our research from one location. Simultaneous data from two different locations would have been interesting," says Nikkanen.

The FMI will also provide ESA's ExoMars 2020 lander and NASA's Mars 2020 rover with similar instruments for pressure and humidity measurements, and these devices are already being manufactured.

ExoMars comprises two parts

The ExoMars 2016 mission comprises the mothership (TGO – a Trace Gas Orbiter) that will settle into an orbit around Mars and the Schiaparelli landing module that will land on Mars. ExoMars is a two-part Mars exploration programme, operated jointly by ESA and Russian Roskosmos. The ExoMars 2016 mission comprises the mothership (TGO – a Trace Gas Orbiter) that will settle into an orbit around Mars and the Schiaparelli landing module that will land on Mars. The primary goal of the TGO probe is to survey the existence of methane and other low concentration gases in the Martian atmosphere from orbit and to locate the sources of these gases. An undisputed discovery of methane would be a signal of either primitive organic activity or geological activity. 

Further information:

Walter Schmidt, Research Manager, tel. +358 050 324 3107, walter.schmidt@fmi.fi

Timo Nikkanen, Researcher, tel. +358 40 764 8091, timo.nikkanen@fmi.fi

Maria Genzer, Senior Researcher, tel. +358 29 539 4724, maria.genzer@fmi.fi

ESA's video on the landing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3WCtJt46qU