U.S.

July 20, 2012

NASA’s car-sized rover nears daring landing on Mars

NASA’s most advanced planetary rover is on a precise course for an early August landing beside a Martian mountain to begin two years of unprecedented scientific detective work.

However, getting the Curiosity rover to the surface of Mars will not be easy.

“The Curiosity landing is the hardest NASA mission ever attempted in the history of robotic planetary exploration,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “While the challenge is great, the team’s skill and determination give me high confidence in a successful landing.”

The Mars Science Laboratory mission is a precursor mission for future human mission to Mars. President Obama has set a challenge to reach the Red Planet in the 2030s.

To achieve the precision needed for landing safely inside Gale Crater, the spacecraft will fly like a wing in the upper atmosphere instead of dropping like a rock. To land the 1-ton rover, an air-bag method used on previous Mars rovers will not work. Mission engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., designed a “sky crane” method for the final several seconds of the flight. A backpack with retro-rockets controlling descent speed will lower the rover on three nylon cords just before touchdown.

During a critical period lasting only about seven minutes, the MSL spacecraft carrying Curiosity must decelerate from about 13,200 mph (about 5,900 meters per second) to allow the rover to land on the surface at about 1.7 mph (three-fourths of a meter per second). Curiosity is scheduled to land at approximately 10:31 p.m., PDT, Aug. 5.

“Those seven minutes are the most challenging part of this entire mission,” said Pete Theisinger, JPL’s MSL project manager. “For the landing to succeed, hundreds of events will need to go right, many with split-second timing and all controlled autonomously by the spacecraft. We’ve done all we can think of to succeed. We expect to get Curiosity safely onto the ground, but there is no guarantee. The risks are real.”

During the initial weeks after the actual landing, JPL mission controllers will put the rover through a series of checkouts and activities to characterize its performance on Mars while gradually ramping up scientific investigations. Curiosity then will begin investigating whether an area with a wet history inside Mars’ Gale Crater ever has offered an environment favorable for microbial life.

“Earlier missions have found that ancient Mars had wet environments,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Program at NASA Headquarters. “Curiosity takes us the next logical step in understanding the potential for life on Mars.”

Curiosity will use tools on a robotic arm to deliver samples from Martian rocks and soils into laboratory instruments inside the rover that can reveal chemical and mineral composition. A laser instrument will use its beam to induce a spark on a target and read the spark’s spectrum of light to identify chemical elements in the target.

Other instruments on the car-sized rover will examine the surrounding environment from a distance or by direct touch with the arm. The rover will check for the basic chemical ingredients for life and for evidence about energy available for life. It also will assess factors that could be hazardous for life, such as the radiation environment.

“For its ambitious goals, this mission needs a great landing site and a big payload,” said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters. “During the descent through the atmosphere, the mission will rely on bold techniques enabling use of a smaller target area and a heavier robot on the ground than were possible for any previous Mars mission. Those techniques also advance us toward human-crew Mars missions, which will need even more precise targeting and heavier landers.”

The chosen landing site is beside a mountain informally called Mount Sharp. The mission’s prime destination lies on the slope of the mountain. Driving there from the landing site may take many months.

“Be patient about the drive. It will be well worth the wait and we are apt to find some targets of interest on the way,” said John Grotzinger, MSL project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “When we get to the lower layers in Mount Sharp, we’ll read them like chapters in a book about changing environmental conditions when Mars was wetter than it is today.”

In collaboration with Microsoft Corp., a new outreach game was unveiled July 16 to give the public a sense of the challenge and adventure of landing in a precise location on the surface. Called “Mars Rover Landing,” the game is an immersive experience for the Xbox 360 home entertainment console that allows users to take control of their own spacecraft and face the extreme challenges of landing a rover on Mars.

“Technology is making it possible for the public to participate in exploration as it never has before,” said Michelle Viotti, JPL’s Mars public engagement manager. “Because Mars exploration is fundamentally a shared human endeavor, we want everyone around the globe to have the most immersive experience possible.”

NASA has several other forthcoming experiences geared for inspiration and learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Information about many ways to watch and participate in the Curiosity’s landing and the mission on the surface of Mars is available at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/participate.

MSL is a project of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The mission is managed by JPL. Curiosity was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Army scientists scout energy solutions for the battlefield

What if scientists and engineers could scavenge energy for warfighters, like bottom feeders scavenge in the ocean? The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, or ARL, along with the Army science and technology community, is pursuing novel technology aspects of the Army’s Operational Energy Strategy. Energy Scavenging is just one way ARL experts are getting more from...
 
 

General Dynamics Completes Successful Critical Design Review for Knifefish Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Undersea Vehicle

FAIRFAX, Va., April 8, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems has successfully completed the critical design review for Knifefish, the surface-mine countermeasure unmanned undersea vehicle (SMCM UUV), one month ahead of schedule. The General Dynamics team will now begin the development of the system hardware and software to integrate the approved design via...
 
 

Wyle wins $24 million engineering contract from Naval Air Systems Command

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Wyle has been awarded a $24 million contract to provide specialized engineering expertise for the Naval Air Systems Command’s Electromagnetic Environmental Effects Division. Wyle’s efforts will include electromagnetic environmental effects systems engineering and related acquisition support, and test and evaluation of aircraft, weapons, support equipment, ...
 

 

Air Force migrates civilian personnel records to OPM

The Air Force has migrated Air Force employee electronic official personnel folders to the Office of Personnel Management eOPF version, Air Force Personnel Center officials said April 2. The eOPF is a secure, digitized version of a hardcopy personnel folder that contains official human resource records for each federal employee. The system enhances portability of...
 
 
Air Force graphic by Angel Herrero de Frutos

2012 climate survey shows overall satisfaction with jobs, leaders

Air Force graphic by Angel Herrero de Frutos More than 163,000 airmen across the Air Force voiced their opinions in the online Air Force Climate Survey conducted May 11-June 22, with results indicating airmen are satisfied with...
 
 

TFSC-SA, AFPC Web applications unavailable for system maintenance

The Total Force Service Center-San Antonio, A1 Service Desk and Air Force Personnel Center Web applications will be unavailable from 6 p.m. Feb. 23 to 8 a.m. Feb. 24 CDT for system maintenance. The major personnel applications and systems affected by this maintenance event include all of AFPC’s secure applications and other Web applications on...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin