Is Arca Space to Blame for Failure of ESA’s ExoMars Lander?

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) imaged the ExoMars Schiaparelli module’s landing site on 25 October 2016, following the module’s arrival at Mars on 19 October. The zoomed insets provide close-up views of what are thought to be several different hardware components associated with the module’s descent to the martian surface. These are interpreted as the front heatshield, the parachute and the rear heatshield to which the parachute is still attached, and the impact site of the module itself. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) imaged the ExoMars Schiaparelli module’s landing site on 25 October 2016, following the module’s arrival at Mars on 19 October. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

Accusations are flying that ESA’s ExoMars Schiaparelli lander crashed into the Red Planet due to poor ground testing conducted by a Romanian company named ARCA Space.

ESA released the preliminary conclusions after the Italian Space Agency had accused that the decisive tests for the Sciaparelli lander simulations had been entrusted to an organization “which hadn’t enough expertize”. It’s about Arca Space Romanian company, based in Las Cruces, USA, as La Repubblica reported.

In retort, the Arca Space Corporation manager, Dumitru Popescu warned the Italian space agency to be more careful, as they don’t have proves to support their accusations. “They could pay the price. We are at ease that we did all we could do: to run a specific test we should have flown very closely to the Russian base in Sevastopol. Russia has just annexed Crimea and we risked generating a conflict between the Russian Federation and NATO,” the Romanian manager argued.

ESA said last week that an inertia measurement unit became saturated with data during descent, providing data that made the lander’s computer believe the vehicle was either about to land or had already landed. The computer ordered the release of the parachute even though the lander was still 3.7 km above the martian surface.

Schiaparelli was designed to test the landing system for a rover that ESA plans to place on the surface. Agency officials have said they gained valuable data from the test.

Arca Space has set up operations in Las Cruces, NM, where it is making hover boards.

  • Hurray, the death spiral of blame has begun!

  • Aerospike

    WTF?! ESA entrusted the testing of vital components of a Mars mission to ARCA space? Seriously?

  • Fabio Semino

    I’ve read both la Repubblica and romaniajournal article, something got lost in translations, more than ARCA unable to setup the test ASI blame the ESA project management, on Popescu retort I don’t understand why Russians which are Exomars partners would have hindered such a vital test.

  • Hug Doug
  • JamesG

    Were the Romanians actually launching test hardware or throwing it out of airplanes?

  • Hug Doug

    A test module was dropped from a balloon 24.4 km up.

    ARCA is well known for testing rockoons (rockets launched from high altitude balloons).

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Stunning. And wasn’t ARCA notorious for promoting the concept of ‘pendulum rocket propulsion’? A concept that was strongly criticized and ridiculed by bloggers and online messageboard fans over 10 years ago?
    Talk about serialized amnesia.

  • JamesFranks

    In my opinion this is merely trying to deflect blame. The primary fault is that there was no error checking on that sensor data. A jump from several kilometers above ground to being underground should have triggered an out of bounds check.

  • Snofru Chufu

    I try also to remember. Did they not use monergol H2O2 propulsion?

  • Snofru Chufu

    Oh no, it seems to be reality. I assume their participation was politically enforced and decided, as main criteria. Usual business in EUdSSR.

  • Aerospike

    Yeah, exactly! And they have been showing around pretty composite models of “rockets” for years, without ever achieving any significant flight/testing milestones (apart from some balloon flights, with which they seem to be pretty good surprisingly).

    Oh and let us not to forget their concept of a supersonic plane to airlaunch small rockets from… that looked almost exactly like the Northrop YF-23.

  • Snofru Chufu

    There are lot of amateurs and small business in USA, which are able perform similar balloon activities, even without being regarded as a professional aerospace company.

  • Snofru Chufu

    There are lot of amateurs and small business in USA, which are able
    perform similar balloon activities, even without being regarded as a
    professional aerospace company.

  • Kapitalist

    Another success story for the naive “international cooperation pools monies and makes larger missions possible sooner” crowd. Poor guys who have no understanding at all about what politics is. They are fooled, that’s why they always fail. Now the blame game is on.

  • Hemingway

    Here are comments on ARCA Spaceport Corporation by President of the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA), Marius-Ioan Piso. It is Romanian to English poor translations. ARCA tried to sue ROSA unsuccessfully for the comments. What is the explanation for this?

    University ,, Alexandru Ioan Cuza “, 24 February 2012:
    “ARCA is an initiative strictly private and covered on television statements fulminant fire, such as the space program Romanian 2012 – 2025, will send second novel in outer space in 2025 are some statements just advertising. Although they are very affected when we say “we know that you want, but you can not” they feel they are the muscles of the strongest and most powerful, and that’s because they have private financing very strong at companies that have an interest to make and they advertise by such an institution. ”

    TVR Info, February 23, 2012:
    “The press in our country everything is about the new Romanian supersonic plane, do not know what launches. They are unreal things. If it were so simple, all states in the world would cosmodroame and would launch.”

    Flame Magazine, January 31, 2011:
    “ARCA guys are nice, enthusiastic, but live mostly from advertising. I do not want to talk bad, but they’re amateurs. Supersonic plane? Germany has no such thing. However, rather than make with drugs for example, better play the rockets, but exaggerate their statements, and those who sit in the back causes him to declare such nonsense. And We promoted when made serious things, for example, the model rocket antiaircraft which once high in the air at 10 km altitude, can be hit by cannon, but what is praise them today, in fact, not launches much different launch German 40s, when the Germans were sending the first V-2 ballistic missile to 206 km, or they barely raised Helen 40 kilometers altitude. Nothing new under the sun! ”

    Adevarul, December 22, 2010:
    “It’s an exaggerated publicity enjoyed this project … Germany does not yet have a supersonic aircraft, nor can boast a rocket space. The ARCA are amateurs but take part in all sorts of competitions to do advertising. It’s kind of bungee jumping they do there for 40 kilometers. There are some cute boys, but that’s exaggerating. We understand well, we are friends, we worked with them, but they have sponsors behind and advertising TV should exaggerate “.

  • Hemingway

    From 2004 to the present, ARCA MEDIA has produced the following videos. There is hardly any substance to the videos. You do not see any product in production or demonstrated – just poor prototype. ARCA MEDIA only produces animated videos of future products. This is not included in these videos. I am very concerned about New Mexico’s big investment in this former Romanian private company. Some of the videos are laughable. Was there due diligence done on this so-called drone manufacturer?
    ARCA Short History

    Stabilo and Helen, engine test, Video 1, 2009

    Helen rocket loaded onboard Navy ship

    2010 ARCA Team Interview | Google Lunar XPRIZE

    New ARCA facility for Haas 2C and Excelsior rocket plane, under construction, 2011

    A new milling machine was purchased by ARCA, 2011

    IAR-111 Excelsior rocket-plane capsule molds casting, 2011

    IAR-111 Excelsior cockpit airframe completion, 2011

    Excelsior rocket plane cockpit, drop test, Mission 6, Video 2, 2011

    Excelsior rocket plane, cockpit airframe, 2011

    Stabilo capsule launch, Mission 1, 2006

    Haas 2C orbital rocket, first public display, 2012

  • Hemingway
  • Hemingway
  • Sandor Lajos

    I think the main reason was price and the “experience” with high altitude balloons of ARCA. Romania has a state funded space agency – not very well known, they don’t do much – so I don’t think it was a political decision.

  • Sandor Lajos

    I followed ARCA from the early begining, as I was living in Romania at that time, I was cheering for them, despite some of their unorthodox solutions. They had Big plans, and always strongly promoted 1 project. But sadly they switched their “priorities” an a yearly basis; From the simple Falcon 1 like rocket to multi staged balloon lunch, to supersonic carrier airplane, to drones and now to a messed up hover board promoted in a Jony Ive-esque video. They did make some interesting stuff with their light thin composite high pressure tank, and some of their balloon lunches, but other then that their are nothing more than a publicity stunt. Makes me sad.

  • Robert Werner

    Dumitru Popescu (a mad, insane scientist and international swindler) and ARCA Space, his company, just scammed ESA of 1.1 million dollars, promising to test the parachute of the Schiaparelli lander. Finally ARCA only performed this ridiculous demonstration (see: on September 16, 2013. The test was just a bad joke from the scientific and technical point of view and had nothing to do with the war in Ukraine and Crimea because this conflict started in February 2014. ESA never relied on Popescu’s experiments and carried out other tests with a completely different parachute in a supersonic wind tunnel at the NASA Glenn Research Center (

    Dumitru Popescu is now in a desperate situation. He is accused of taking 1.1 million dollars for doing nothing and he tries to find various excuses.

  • publiusr

    I really liked their Stabilio concept:

    Very like the old VA capsules that were to go on the Almaz stations–before being replaced with Soyuz docks and being renamed Salyut

  • Octavian Matei

    What are you expecting? He’s not an engineer he’s a former priest who started building different stuff. ESA shouldn’t give the sensitive testing to any company.