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Time really flies. It’s already been a month since NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander blasted off for the Red Planet, so I’m sure you’re wondering, how’s the spacecraft faring up so far? Pretty good actually. The Phoenix flight operations team recently checked in with the spacecraft, and made sure its most crucial instruments (well, for the landing anyway) are working properly.
Phoenix Mars Lander launched on August 4, 2007 from Florida’s Cape Canaveral, and won’t arrive at Mars until May 25, 2008. During its entire journey, the spacecraft is communicating back to Earth using a high frequency X-band transmitter. This transmitter is only temporary, however. Once the spacecraft arrives at Mars, it’ll jettison a portion of the spacecraft – where this transmitter is located – and from then on out, it’ll be relying on its UHF radio.
When landing day arrives, this radio absolutely has to be working.
Another instrument that needs to be working is its landing radar. This instrument will be constantly measuring the distance to ground as the spacecraft passes through the Martian atmosphere. A whole string of activities rely on the spacecraft being able to accurately gauge its distance to the ground for the last 3 minutes of its descent.
So, NASA tested them out. The flight operations team tested the UHF radio and its landing radar on August 24th, and made sure they were working properly. The radio won’t be turned on again until landing day on May 25th, 2008. The team also tested out one of the spacecraft’s science experiments, the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, which will look for water and carbon-containing molecules in the icy soil at its landing site at the Martian north pole. More tests of other instruments are planned for October.
Mars Phoenix Lander has already traveled more than 81 million km (50 million miles). That sounds like a lot, and it is, but the spacecraft still has another 600 million km to go.
“Everything is going as planned. No surprises, but this is one of those times when boring is good,” said Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
That’s good, it’s boring now, but it’s going to be insane on May 25th… I can’t wait.
Original Source: NASA/JPL News Release