UA-Led Camera Photographs Ill-Fated Mars Lander
The HiRISE camera shows three locations where hardware from the European Space Agency's test lander hit the surface of the Red Planet.

By Daniel Stolte, University Communications
Oct. 27, 2016


The area where the European Space Agency's Schiaparelli test lander reached the surface of Mars
The area where the European Space Agency's Schiaparelli test lander reached the surface of Mars (Image: JPL/Caltech)

The most powerful telescope orbiting Mars is providing new details of the scene near the Martian equator where the European Space Agency's Schiaparelli test lander hit the surface last week.

An observation Tuesday using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows three impact locations within about 0.9 mile (1.5 kilometers) of one another.

Annotated views are online at and

The scene shown by HiRISE includes three locations where hardware reached the ground. A dark, roughly circular feature is interpreted as where the lander itself struck. A pattern of rays extending from the circle suggests that a shallow crater was excavated by the impact, as expected, given the premature engine shutdown. About 0.8 mile (1.4 kilometers) eastward, an object with several bright spots surrounded by darkened ground is likely the heat shield. About 0.8 mile (1.4 kilometers) south of the lander impact site, two features side-by-side are interpreted as the spacecraft's parachute and the back shell to which the parachute was attached.

Additional images to be taken from different angles are planned and will aid interpretation of these early results.

"The HiRISE image reveals an apparent new impact crater at the Schiaparelli lander site, and some puzzling details such as bright spots that might be lander debris and a curious curved marking to the northeast," said Alfred McEwen, a professor of planetary geology at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and principal investigator of HiRISE. "Hopefully, these are clues that will help the team understand what happened."  

The ExoMars Schiaparelli Lander or Entry, Descent and Landing Module (EDM) reached the Martian surface on Oct. 19, along with the Trace Gas Orbiter. According to the ExoMars project, both the heat shield and back shell plus parachute separated as planned, but the lander crashed at more than 83 meters per second (more than 300 kilometers per hour) velocity.

The test lander was part of the European Space Agency's ExoMars 2016 mission, which placed the Trace Gas Orbiter into orbit around Mars on Oct. 19. The orbiter will investigate the atmosphere and surface of Mars and provide relay communications capability for landers and rovers on Mars.

Data transmitted by Schiaparelli during its descent through Mars' atmosphere is enabling analysis of why the lander's thrusters switched off prematurely. The new HiRISE imaging provides additional information, with more detail than visible in an earlier view with the Context Camera (CTX) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

With HiRISE, CTX and four other instruments, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been investigating Mars since 2006.

The UA operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the orbiter and collaborates with JPL to operate it. 

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For additional information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit


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Alfred McEwen

UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory


Ari Espinoza

UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory