ESA investigation finds Schiaparelli spacecraft was “ill-prepared” to make Mars landing


An ESA investigation concluded the Schiaparelli spacecraft was “ill-prepared” to make a landing on Mars.

The spacecraft, a landing technology demonstrator, flew to Mars on the ExoMars 2016 mission, but crashed when it prematurely shut down its thrusters.

An investigation led by ESA’s inspector general found that the spacecraft’s inertial measurement unit became saturated when the spacecraft spun more than expected while descending under its parachute.

This led the spacecraft’s guidance computer to erroneously calculate that the spacecraft was below the surface, triggering a shutdown of the thrusters when the spacecraft was, in fact, several kilometers above the surface. [BBC]

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Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket reached space, but not orbit, on its first launch Thursday. The rocket lifted off from the company’s New Zealand launch site at 12:20 a.m. Eastern after several days of weather-related delays. The company said that the rocket made it into space, but “didn’t quite reach orbit.” Rocket Lab said it was still reviewing data about the launch, but was pleased with the outcome. Electron is a small launch vehicle capable of placing up to 150 kilograms into low Earth orbit. This launch was the first of three test launches planned by Rocket Lab before beginning commercial flights, with the next launch expected in a couple months. [SpaceNews]

A Soyuz rocket launched a Russian military satellite Thursday. The Soyuz-2.1b rocket lifted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia at 2:34 a.m. Eastern time. Russian media described the rocket’s payload as a “new generation military spacecraft,” which had previously been identified as an EKS missile-warning satellite. [TASS]

DARPA has selected Boeing to develop a prototype reusable spaceplane. Boeing will build its “Phantom Express” for DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1) program and carry out a series of suborbital test flights in 2020. XS-1 is a program to develop a reusable first stage that, coupled with an expendable upper stage, can place payloads weighing up to about 2,200 kilograms into orbit for less than $5 million a launch. The program’s requirements include the ability to carry out 10 flights in 10 days. Boeing’s vehicle will use an Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22 engine, based on the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) and using parts from older versions of the SSME. The DARPA award is valued at $146 million, with Boeing making an undisclosed contribution as part of a public-private partnership. [SpaceNews]

The White House is seeking to increase spending on military space programs by $1.3 billion in 2018. The administration’s budget request includes $4.33 billion for research, development, testing, and evaluation, and $3.42 billion for procurement. The request features $1.3 billion for the SBIRS missile-warning program for the launch of the SBIRS GEO 4 satellite and production of the fifth and sixth satellites. The request also seeks to boost spending on the GPS program to ramp up production of the GPS 3 series of spacecraft. [SpaceNews]

An organization is seeking to recruit entrepreneurs to create hundreds of space startups. The Founder Institute wants to address a “pipeline problem” for space startups by recruiting entrepreneurs to a training program followed by support from a business incubator. Under its Star Fellow Program, applicants interested in space entrepreneurship will have their fees waived for the program. “Our goal, which admittedly might be a bit of a stretch goal, is to have 500 new space and space-exploration companies launched by 2025,” said Founder Institute CEO Adeo Rossi. [SpaceNews]

Amateur satellite trackers have found the classified satellite launched on a Falcon 9 early this month. Satellite observers found the satellite, designated USA 276, using predictions of its likely orbit based on the trajectory of its May 1 launch from the Kennedy Space Center. The satellite’s owner, the National Reconnaissance Office, has not disclosed the spacecraft’s mission. The orbit, at an altitude of 400 kilometers and inclination of 50 degrees, is unusual for a reconnaissance satellite, leading some to suspect it may be a technology demonstration mission. [Spaceflight Now]

NASA conducted the second in a series of tests this week of the shuttle-era rocket engine that will be used on the Space Launch System. The eight-minute test firing of the RS-25 engine at the Stennis Space Center is part if a series to test the flight controller for the engine, upgraded for use on SLS missions. A third such test is planned for July. [NASA]

A NASA asteroid mission will launch a year earlier than previously planned. The agency said Wednesday that the Psyche spacecraft will now launch in the summer of 2022, taking a revised trajectory that will have it arrive at the asteroid of the same name in 2026, four years earlier than planned. NASA selected Psyche in January as one of two new Discovery-class planetary science missions, with the goal of studying the unusual metallic asteroid. The revised trajectory, which does away with an Earth gravity assist, will also reduce the mission’s overall cost. [NASA/JPL]

NASA’s budget may be going down, but its fashion sense is going up. Coach announced this week a line of NASA and other space-themed clothing and accessories, some featuring the old NASA “worm” logo. A handbag sporting a set of space-related patches, including one of the shuttle, is available for $895, while an Apollo-themed sweater is $695. “Imagine swag from Space Camp, but curated by Gwyneth Paltrow,” states one description of the line of products. []