More suspense for Curiosity
6th August, rover will signal its landing by a message that will be received on Earth at 7.31am (French time) via Mars Odyssey that orbits around Mars. Due to a problem with this satellite, we may have to wait a few minutes longer…
The MSL mission (Mars Science Laboratory) has been in an intense preparation phase for landing the Curiosity rover for the past few days. This mobile laboratory of nearly 1 ton will be placed on the surface of the red planet thanks to a “flying crane” (see illustration above) that will hover a few metres above the ground and lower the precious motor (the mission costs a total of 2.5 Billion Dollars) from the end of cables that will then be cut. This new method of landing represents a huge technical challenge and, no doubt, many people will impatiently be awaiting the signal from Curiosity, confirming its safe arrival.
The Cité de l’Espace is organising a special public event starting at 6.30am on 6th August with a live web broadcast on Enjoy Space and from our special envoy at JPL in California (see this feature).
Live, a few minutes after or even more suspense?
Curiosity must land on Mars at 7.18am, French time. But, given the distance that separates Mars and the Earth, on 6th August the signal confirming the landing (and also containing the first images) will only arrive at 7.31am. Nevertheless, it won’t be possible for the rover to communicate directly with us at this exact moment because our planet will lose contact from only a few minutes away in the Martian sky from its place of arrival, the Gale Crater. In other words, the side of Mars that will be visible on 6th August during this event is not where Curiosity will land.
This is why NASA has planned to use Mars Odyssey, that orbits around the fourth planet of the solar system, as a telecommunications relay. A smart solution (and which has already been proven in other missions) that has just met an unexpected problem.
|The Mars Odyssey satellite (artist’s impression) responsible of relaying transmissions from Curiosity during its landing.
Mars Odyssey has recently lost one of its reaction wheels, devices that are used to refine the orientation and orbit of a satellite. As a result, if the decision is taken to change nothing, the Odyssey will pass over Curiosity a few minutes after its landing. JPL estimates that the confirmation of a safe landing with arrive between 7.35am and 7.40am, French time, on 6th August (or 10.35pm - 10.40pm on 5th August, Californian time, due to the time difference between USA and France). Thus a few extra minutes of suspense for those in charge of the mission!
The Europeans’ Mars Express satellite follows an orbit that should allow it to watch part of Curiosity’s entrance into the atmosphere, but not help with the landing. However, the American Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will be able to capture everything but is not able to transmit this immediately. MRO will store transmissions from Curiosity to then send these towards Earth a few hours later.
As mentioned above, the Cité de l’Espace is organising a specific event for this important event in solar system exploration in general and Mars in particular. From 6.30am, the space adventure park in Toulouse will welcome the public in the Australia building with live video transmissions from NASA, commented in French by experts in order to allow everyone (young and old) to follow the landing. In California, at JPL, a special envoy will be live on video to give additional information. For those that cannot go to Toulouse, a live web video (free) will be viewable on Enjoy Space. In the meantime, you can already follow Curiosity with regular information thanks to Twitter, where the most recent Tweets are reproduced below.
The Twitter feed @explorezmars
The feature @explorezmars with live video window on 6th August
Published 18th July 2012