Watch How Curiosity Will Land On Mars

by Nancy Atkinson on April 6, 2011

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Entry, descent and landing is the big moment for any Mars lander mission, and the big honkin’ Mars Science Lab and its sky-crane landing system will truly be unique. This brand new video from the Jet Propulsion Lab shows how MSL, a.k.a Curiosoity will land on the Red Planet in August of 2012. Doug Ellison, part of the team who worked on this computer generated video told Universe Today that the scenes from Mars shown here were created from real elevation data from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the outcrop of rock that Curiosity visits is based on Burns Cliff, visited by Opportunity in 2004.

When they started working on the video, the real rover wasn’t as close to completion as it is now. “The oddity is that we had to finish our virtual rover ahead of the real rover!” Ellison said. “The rover and other major components were derived from simplified CAD drawings, combined with lots of photographs of the actual hardware under construction.”

I asked Ellison how he and his colleagues create the scenes of events that haven’t happened yet.

“We were not starting from scratch, as we collaborated with the same team responsible for the earlier MSL animation you may have seen, (created about two years ago)” Ellison said. “People from different elements of the project helped steer us on how their elements of the project work. We then worked through a review process with those teams to make sure we get both how it looks, and how it works, as accurate as we can, whilst still being engaging.”

“The EDL team especially were a thrill to work with,” Ellison continued, “urging us to reflect the dynamic, violent nature of landing on another planet. They commented that once it’s on that Atlas V and on its way to Mars, they never get to see it at work. This animation is the thing they can show to friends and family to say ‘This is what I do’.”

Ellison said his team is working on a longer and more complete movie that should be finished with the next few months.

But for now, enjoy this thrill-ride along with Curiosity!

For more information about MSL’s landing, here’s a link to a detailed PDF all about EDL.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Paul Eaton-Jones April 6, 2011 at 8:03 AM

Fantastic. I can hardly wait to see this in action.

hal9000 April 6, 2011 at 11:16 AM

This EDL seems very complicated and risky. Is it the first time such a heavy lander uses the sky crane technique? I really hope I will work. ‘Cant wait for the live landing coverage on Nasa TV (I was there for MER).

Torbjorn Larsson OM April 6, 2011 at 1:24 PM

It is the first time the sky crane is used. (It is used precisely because it allow such a heavy lander.)

Another scary moment must be deploying those arms. Seems Curiosity is the first that can do some more extensive damage on itself by its arm. (Well, I guess Phoenix and MER have _some_ ability there; but look at that monster arm go!) I wouldn’t want to be the one responsible for the fancy part of software integrating and monitoring all that movement.

Run April 6, 2011 at 11:54 AM

At 50 seconds into the video I see the solar panels have a remarkably strange pattern. What is the explanation for this?

Navneeth April 6, 2011 at 2:08 PM

What’s with NASA being all StarWars-y? Sounds in space?

Torbjorn Larsson OM April 6, 2011 at 2:47 PM

Or companion cameras? And the non-realistic timeline, with cuts and in the future!?

Next you will tell me its all a movie instead of reality. Oh noes! :-D

Torbjorn Larsson OM April 6, 2011 at 2:47 PM

Dang. “It’s”.

Torbjorn Larsson OM April 6, 2011 at 2:56 PM

Actually, watching the film there is no telling if in in any case there isn’t a thin atmosphere that admit sound waves of some form. You would have to look for the molecular transport regime at a guess, and even when you will have pressure differentials. So when is space soundless? IIRC BA mentions somewhere that dense enough molecular clouds will have “sounds”.

dabp April 6, 2011 at 2:25 PM

I remember the nervousness the team had for the Phoenix landing. There were so many stages in the entry, descent, landing process (16? 28? ? stick in my mind for some reason), and if just 1 stage went wrong that was it.

Curiosity has so increased in price, been moved from 1 window to the next for its take off, unfortunately been unable to take on zoom cameras …. If it now fails …

How many stages are there in the entry, descent, landing process of Curiosity?

Nancy Atkinson April 6, 2011 at 6:04 PM

I added a link, above, to the article that explains MSL’s EDL in great detail.

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