Feeds

NASA's nuclear Mars tank prepares for high pucker-factor landing

Red Planet astro-truck to go down like none before it

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Pics NASA's Mars Science Laboratory team is working on a landing procedure for Red Planet rover Curiosity, due to touchdown on the dust world this weekend.

Curiosity landing infographic

A little to the right... bit more... bit more... bit more... perfect!

The US space agency said its flight team had started going through the motions for entry, descent and landing on Mars, while the craft itself performs its own tests and checks.

The nuclear space-tank that is Curiosity is heading to Earth's neighbouring planet to try to find signs of microscopic life, which may have lived there in the past, or proof that it ever could. Aside from the mega-bucks spent on the mission, and the high excitement of its purpose, this landing will have added fear factor: it'll be going down like no rover has ever gone down before.

Traditional Mars space-trucks including Sojourner, Spirt and Opportunity were dropped onto a lovely air-bag to cushion their fall, the de-facto landing experience for a rover.

But Curiosity is huge - the size of a small SUV - so air bags are not its thing. Instead, the rover will be lowered onto the Martian surface by a "sky crane", a brand new system that's bound to cause no end of nail biting.

Artist's concept of Curiosity

Star trucking, across the universe!

To add even more zest to the proceedings, NASA decided to reduce the landing zone for Curiosity, moving it closer to the very reassuringly-named Mount Sharp to cut down on time spent trundling across the surface. The previous landing zone for a rover was about 19km by 26km (11.8 miles x 16 miles). The new mountain-adjacent zone is just 6.4km by 19km (3.9 miles x 11.8 miles).

Which is why testing everything a few times before touchdown at 6.31am BST on Monday (10.31pm PDT Sunday) just might be a good idea.

The Mars Science Laboratory is busy turning on needed components and deciding upon final parameters (although these can be updated during the landing if need be). Onboard is the Entry, Descent and Landing Instrument Suite, which will record every detail of the plunge to help make future missions easier.

Once it reaches the surface, Curiosity is expected to wander about for one Martian year (98 Earth weeks), though previous rovers have lasted much longer than their initial mission's duration.

As well as trying to find evidence of microscopic life, the rover will also help scientists work out how to best set up home on the unforgiving planet: the space-truck is equipped with a weather station, an instrument for monitoring high-energy radiation and an instrument that can detect soil moisture and water-containing minerals in the the ground. All of which is scientifically valuable in a number of ways, but can also help plan for an eventual manned mission to Mars.

And if there's any life around that Curiosity doesn't like, it's always got its laser gun and robotic arm handy. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
LOHAN packs bags for SPACEPORT AMERICA!
Spanish launch goes titsup, we're off to the US of A
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
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
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
Boffins build CYBORG-MOTHRA but not for evil: For search & rescue
This tiny bio-bot will chew through your clothes then save your life
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
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.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
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.