July 25, 2012
Mars Express Supporting NASA During ‘Seven Minutes Of Terror’ Mars Landing
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
One of the most complicated landings ever performed on Mars will be taking place 354-million-miles away on August 5 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and it will be supported by the European Space Agency's Mars Express.
The spacecraft will enter the Mars atmosphere at about 13,000 miles per hour, having to slow down to just about 2 miles per hour before landing Curiosity on the surface in Gale Crater.
During the scary descent, MSL will be transmitting data to two nearby NASA spacecraft, as well as ESA's Mars Express, which has been orbiting Mars since 2003.
Mars Express will be relaying data that could be crucial for the U.S. space agency if anything happens to go wrong.
“We began optimizing our orbit several months ago, so that Mars Express will have an orbit that is properly ℠phased´ and provides good visibility of MSL´s planned trajectory,” Michel Denis, Mars Express Spacecraft Operations Manager, said in a recent statement.
Scientists at ESA's Spacecraft Operations Center (ESOC), have designed and tested a new pointing mode for Mars Express for its Lander Communications system to point toward MSL. The instrument was designed to communicate with the Beagle lander on the Martian surface back in 2003.
During the MSL descent, Mars Express will turn and start listening to the spacecraft before it begins its seven minutes of terror, recording signal data until touchdown is confirmed. Afterwards, the ESA orbiter will point its antenna towards Earth and transmit the data.
“NASA supported the arrival of Mars Express at Mars in 2003, and, in the past few years, we have relayed data from the rovers Spirit and Opportunity,” ESA´s Manfred Warhaut, Head of Mission Operations, said. “Mars Express also tracked the descent of NASA´s Phoenix lander in 2008 and we routinely share our deep space networks."
He said that cooperation at Mars between ESA and NASA is a long-standing and mutually beneficial activity that has helped both agencies reduce risk and increase the return of scientific data.
NASA's Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will also be tracking MSL's descent and relaying back information about Curiosity.
RedOrbit will be covering the event live from JPL in Pasadena, California on August 5.