NASA narrows Curiosity’s arrival area
The American Space Agency has announced that its Martian rover will land on 6 August around 07:30 (French time). The targeted area has been reduced from a 20x25 km oval to one that measures 7x20 km, putting it closer to Gale crater’s most promising sites.
|Curiosity’s position (in green) on 11 June.
Having travelled more than 465 million km (we would reiterate that the journey is not made in a straight line, see above), Curiosity is still heading towards its objective: the 154 km diameter Gale crater near to the Red Planet’s equator.
During a conference on 11 June, JPL, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory tasked with managing the mission on NASA’s behalf, announced that the rover would be landing on 5 August at 22:31 local time in Pasadena, California, where JPL has its 72 ha “campus”. This will be 07:31 in the morning on Monday 6 August in France. This appears to be the arrival time for the rover’s signals which will take 13 minutes to reach Earth from Mars. It is worthy of note that the Cité de l’espace is planning to organise an event which will enable you to follow this arrival; an event which will be retransmitted via live video on Enjoy Space.
As a result of the performance expected of the rover’s landing system, JPL has reduced the error margin. For instance, the controllers had originally planned for Curiosity to land somewhere within a 20x25 km oval. But, this has now been reduced to 7x20 km and moved closer to the slopes of the central peak, Mount Sharp, which stands an impressive 5 km high in the centre of Gale crater. Scientists believe that these slopes have most interesting geologic strata where they will be able to determine whether Mars could have once been home to liquid water and have conditions favourable to life.
|Curiosity’s oval arrival area in Gale crater on Mars. We can see that the new ellipse (thicker black line) is much smaller and nearer to the slopes of Mount Sharp than the previous one.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS
According to Pete Theisinger, JPL’s Project Manager, this choice cuts the distance that the rover will have to travel to reach the promising slopes in half. Several months of rolling time will thus be saved with Curiosity still landing in a safe area (for instance, there cannot be too many big rocks that could destabilise the rover on its arrival).
The video below presents the two French experiments on board Curiosity as well as its innovative way of landing.
This other video shows the “Explore Mars” exhibition at the Cité de l’Espace, in Toulouse, France.
Published on 12 June 2012