Feeds

NASA's Phoenix braces for Sunday touch-down

So far, so good for Martian gig

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander is looking good for a Sunday touch-down on the Red Planet, with all systems "nominal and stable", according to the agency.

Phoenix is, however, currently "closing in on the scariest seven minutes of the mission" when it must decelerate from 13,000mph (21,000km/h) to just 5mph (8km/h) using a combination of "superheated friction with the atmosphere, a strong parachute and a set of pulsing retrorockets" to achieve a gentle landing.

Artist's impression of Phoenix landing. Pic: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The spacecraft's final destination is an area in the Martian Arctic lying at around 68° north. The biggest threats to the mission are rocks "large enough to spoil the landing or prevent opening of the solar panels". However, Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St Louis, chairman of the Phoenix landing-site working group, recently assured: "We have blanketed nearly the entire landing area with HiRISE images. This is one of the least rocky areas on all of Mars and we are confident that rocks will not detrimentally impact the ability of Phoenix to land safely."

Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said yesterday: "The latest calculation from our navigation team shows the center of the area where we're currently headed lies less than eight miles from the center of our target area.

"We may decide on Saturday that we don't need to use our final opportunity for fine tuning the trajectory Phoenix is on. Either way, we will continue to monitor the trajectory throughout Saturday night, on the off chance we need to execute our contingency maneuver eight hours before entry."

All being well, the Phoenix team could receive confirmation that their baby is safely down as early as 23:53 GMT on Sunday. Alternatively, silence might indicate that Phoenix has suffered the same fate as six previous unsuccessful attempts to put a spacecraft down on Mars - a hefty percentage of the 11 missions dispatched to the planet.

Assuming Phoenix doesn't do a Beagle, it will set to work to "study the history of water in the Martian arctic" and "search for evidence of a habitable zone and assess the biological potential of the ice-soil boundary".

The University of Arizona has full mission details here. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Cutting cancer rates: Data, models and a happy ending?
How surgery might be making cancer prognoses worse
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Brit balloon bod Bodnar overflies North Pole
B-64 amateur ultralight payload approaching second circumnavigation
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?