Mars Express Ready For Sunday's Main Event
August 4, 2012

Mars Express Ready For Curiosity’s Seven Minutes Of Terror

[ Watch the Video "Seven Minutes of Terror" ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

The European Space Agency's Mars Express has adjusted its sites, and is targeting the spot for Curiosity's landing this Sunday night.

Mars Express will assist NASA in monitoring the delivery of Curiosity to the Red Planet in its "seven minutes of terror" descent.

The ESA spacecraft has already helped out NASA in providing information to refine its landing target.

The Mars Science Laboratory was initially aiming for a 12 by 15 mile landing target, but through the use of several spacecrafts, that window has dropped even more.

Scientists used data from the High Resolution Stereo camera on Mars Express, as well as data from the Context Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and color information from Viking Orbiter imagery to adjust the landing target to just 12 by 4 miles.

Honing in on a landing spot will ensure that Curiosity gets even closer to the mountain side of Gale Crater. The central mound called Mount Sharp rises 3.4 miles above the crater floor, and is the prime target for Curiosity.

Orbiting spacecraft have already identified minerals and clay at that site, which could suggest water may have once filed up the area.

The Mars Express Lander Communication (MELACOM) system will be switched on and used during Curiosity's descent toward Mars.

ESA said its ground tracking station in New Norcia, Australia will be listening in and recording signals from the NASA mission at the same time.

The space agency's Mars Express will contact Earth through ESA's deep space station at New Norcia, and it will begin transmitting the recorded information, which should take 11 minutes to download.

Signals will only take about 14 minutes to cover the 154 million mile distance to Earth.

RedOrbit will be providing live coverage of the event from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Tune in on Sunday night around 10:00 pacific time to see the live updates.