Feeds

Nuclear Mars tank prepares for 8-thruster dance

MSL's engines fire up in choreographed sequence in push for Mars

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

The Mars Science Laboratory, the "nuclear-powered robot laser tank" carrying NASA's shiny new rover, Curiosity, is due to fire its engine in two days' time for the biggest manoeuvre on its trip to the Red Planet.

Artist's concept of MSL during cruise phase

Artist's concept of MSL during cruise phase. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On Wednesday night at 11pm GMT, the MSL will fire its eight thruster engines in a choreographed sequence over almost three hours to direct itself more precisely at the Gale Crater on Mars.

When the MSL took off in late November, its trajectory was deliberately aimed at missing the Red Planet to make sure the upper stage of the launch vehicle wouldn't land there when it's discarded by the ship. The laboratory itself was cleaned to protect Mars from Earth's microbes, but the upper stage was not.

As well as shunting the craft onto the right course, the engine dance will also increase the velocity by about 12.3 miles an hour (about 20kmph).

"After this trajectory correction manoeuvre, we expect to be very close to where we ultimately need to be for our entry point at the top of the Martian atmosphere," said MSL cruise mission manager Arthur Amador, in a canned statement.

The MSL is due to arrive at the planet on 6 August, which gives the spacelab five more chances to correct its flight path, if it needs them.

The upcoming manoeuvre will use the MSL's inertial measurement unit to figure out the craft's orientation and acceleration while the engines burn. The unit is being used as an alternative to the onboard celestial navigation system, which was accidentally reset on 29 November when the MSL used its star-identifying software.

On Sunday, the MSL's operations team will start a set of engineering checks, lasting around a week, which will test several parts of the system for landing Curiosity on Mars and for the rover's communication with Mars orbiters. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
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.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.