Pune Telescope gets signals from Mars Lander couple of munites before touching down

NEW DELHI,OCt20: A mega Indian telescope bank near Pune received the last signal sent from an ambitious European Space Agency mission to put a lander on the planet Mars.

Scientists believe the Mars lander Schiaparelli touched down on Mars last evening, but may not have survived the impact, as it is emitting no signal.

The Giant Meter Wave Radio Telescope (GMRT), located about 80 km north of Pune, received signals from the Schiaparelli till about two minutes before its touchdown, said Swarna Ghosh, director at the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Pune.

The GMRT, which has 30 big dish antennas, each of a 45-meter diameter, was tasked by the European Space Agency to track the trajectory of the Schiaparelli as it neared the surface of Mars.

“19 Indian telescopes were working together to gather the signal and till two minutes before the touchdown of the Schiaparelli the telescopes received the signals. After that communication was lost,” Mr Ghosh said.

He said she believes the signals were lost at a point when special rockets or thrusters were to fire, slowing down the European craft so that it could land safely to have a safe landing.
“The lander touched down, that is certain. Whether it landed intact, whether it hit a rock or a crater or whether it simply cannot communicate, that I don’t know,” the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli manager Thierry Blancquaert told news agency AFP, adding that he was “not too optimistic” of receiving a clean bill of health.

Mr Ghosh said this was the first time the Pune telescope bank was deployed to track the landing of a space craft on Mars. She said the geometry, location and listening capability of the GMRT makes it the most suitable telescope to track such events.

The main mandate of the GMRT, which began operations in 1995, is to track stars and look for galactic signals using its giant ears.

The Indian Space Research Organisation confirms that its deep space communication network housed at Byalalu near Bengaluru was not “involved” in monitoring or tracking the European space craft as it neared Mars.

Recently India’s Mangalyaan successfully completed two years in orbit and continues to send back data. In another four years India hopes to revisit Mars through a more sophisticated orbiter.