Mars Rover Curiosity
On 5th August NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity will begin it’s descent to the red planets surface. It will land in a way never attempted before.
The spacecraft has been designed to steer itself during descent through Mars’ atmosphere with a series of S-curve maneuvers similar to those used by astronauts piloting NASA space shuttles. During the three minutes before touchdown, the spacecraft slows its descent with a parachute, then uses retro rockets mounted around the rim of an upper stage. In the final seconds, the upper stage acts as a sky crane, lowering the upright rover on a tether to the surface.
Curiosity is about twice as long (about 3 meters or 10 feet) and five times as heavy as NASA’s twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, launched in 2003. It inherited many design elements from them, including six-wheel drive, a rocker-bogie suspension system and cameras mounted on a mast to help the mission’s team on Earth select exploration targets and driving routes. Unlike earlier rovers, Curiosity carries equipment to gather samples of rocks and soil, process them and distribute them to onboard test chambers inside analytical instruments.
Visit http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/overview/ for more information.
Also for an excellent little video animation showing the landing visit :-
“Entry, descent and landing is referred to as the ‘seven minutes of terror’ because we’ve got literally seven minutes to get from the top of the atmosphere to the surface of Mars, going from 13,000 miles an hour to zero in perfect sequence, perfect choreography and perfect timing, and the computer has to do it all by itself with no help from the ground,” said Adam Steltzner, a NASA engineer, in a video interview. “If any one thing doesn’t work just right, it’s game-over.”