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Mars spacecraft 'was destroyed in crash-landing'

An artist's impression of the Schiaparelli lander approaching Mars Credit: Reuters / ESA

A spacecraft sent to sent to beam back data from Mars appears to have been destroyed after crash-landing to the surface of the red planet, the team behind the mission has said.

The Schiaparelli probe had travelled for 365 million miles to reach Mars in a new push to gather data - including evidence of possible life on the planet.

But it failed at the final hurdle after apparently losing control as it entered the martian atmosphere, said the European Space Agency (ESA).

New images taken by a NASA Mars orbiter indicate that the lander was destroyed after free-falling between two and four kilometres onto the planet's surface, it said.

The pictures show a fuzzy dark patch, around 15 by 40 metres in size, about 1 km north of the lander's parachute.

ESA scientists believe it is impact marks caused by the lander as it crash-landed on the planet. They said that there might also have been an explosion on impact as the lander's tanks were still full.

A diagram showing the Schiaparelli lander Credit: Reuters / ESA

The Schiaparelli probe had been missing and its status unknown since scientists lost contact with it 50 seconds before its expected landing time on Friday afternoon.

Its loss will be especially bitter as it had marked Europe's first attempt to place a lander on the planet since the the Beagle 2's "heroic failure" more than a decade ago.

The earlier Beagle probe had landed - but immediately afterwards vanished after its solar panels failed to deploy.

The Schiaparelli probe had been intended to test technology for a later rover planned for 2020.

However, the mission's larger mothership had successfully swung into orbit around Mars, where it will carry out tests to detect gases such as methane which could indicate the presence of life.