Curiosity Completes Crucial Course Correction – 1 Week from Mars !

by Ken Kremer on July 30, 2012

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Image Caption: Course correcting thruster firings on July 29 successfully placed Curiosity on target to touchdown beside Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater on Mars on Aug 6 in search of signs of a habitable environment. Credit: NASA

Now just 1 week out from landing beside a 3 mile high (5 km) layered Martian mountain in search of life’s ingredients, aiming thrusters aboard the cruise stage of NASA’s car sized Curiosity Mars Science Lab successfully fired to set the rover precisely on course for a touchdown on Mars at about 1:31 a.m. EDT (531 GMT) early on Aug. 6 (10:31 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5).

Two precise and brief thruster bursts lasting about 7 seconds were successfully carried out just hours ago earlier today at 1 a.m. on July 29, EDT (10 p.m. PDT on July 28). The effect was to change the spacecraft’s velocity by about 1/40 MPH or 1 cm/sec as it smashes into Mars at about 13,200 mph (5,900 meters per second).

This was the fourth and possibly last of 6 interplanetary Trajectory Correction Manuevers (TCM’s) planned by mission engineers to steer Curiosity since departing Earth for the Red Planet.

If necessary, 2 additional TCM’s could be implemented in the final 48 hours next Saturday and Sunday before Curiosity begins plunging into the Martian atmosphere late Sunday night on a do or die mission to land inside the 100 mile wide Gale Crater with a huge mountain in the middle. All 6 TCM maneuvers were preplanned long before the Nov 26, 2011 liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Without this course correction firing, MSL would have hit a point at the top of the Martian atmosphere about 13 miles (21 kilometers) east of the target entry point. During the preprogrammed Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) sequence the vehicle can steer itself in the upper atmosphere to correct for an error amounting to a few miles.

On landing day, MSL can steer enough during its flight through the upper atmosphere to correct for missing the target entry aim point by a few miles and still land on the intended patch of Mars real estate. The mission’s engineers and managers rated the projected 13-mile miss big enough to warrant a correction maneuver.

“The purpose of this maneuver is to move the point at which Curiosity enters the atmosphere by about 13 miles,” said Tomas Martin-Mur of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., chief of the mission’s navigation team. “The first look at telemetry and tracking data afterwards indicates the maneuver succeeded as planned.”


Image Cation: Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory Rover – inside the Cleanroom at KSC, with robotic arm extended prior to encapsulation and Nov. 26, 2011 liftoff. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

As of today (July 30), Curiosity has traveled about 97% of the overall journey to Mars or about 343 million miles (555 million kilometers) of its 352-million-mile (567-million-kilometer) total flight distance.

“I will not be surprised if this was our last trajectory correction maneuver,” Martin Mur said of the TCM-4 firing. “We will be monitoring the trajectory using the antennas of the Deep Space Network to be sure Curiosity is staying on the right path for a successful entry, descent and landing.”

Curiosity will use an unprecedented rocket powered descent stage and a helicopter like sky crane to set down astride the sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp.

She will then conduct a minimum 2 year prime mission with the most sophisticated science instrument package ever dispatched to Mars to determine if a habitable zone ever existed on this region of Mars.

Curiosity will search for the ingredients of life in the form of organic molecules – the carbon based molecules which are the building blocks of life as we know it. The one-ton behemoth is packed to the gills with 10 state of the art science instruments including a 7 foot long robotic arm, scoop, drill and laser rock zapper.

As Curiosity dives down to Mars surface on Aug. 6, 3 spacecraft from NASA and ESA are now positioned in orbit around the Red Planet and are ready to relay and record signals from the “7 Minutes of Terror” – Read the details in my article – here

Watch NASA TV online for live coverage of the Curiosity landing on Aug 5/6:
mars.jpl.nasa.gov or www.nasa.gov

Ken Kremer

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com

Mean_deviatioN July 30, 2012 at 3:42 AM

Thanks for the GMT; I do wonder why you only chose to specify the EDT and PDT equivalents? Surely this site is available in regions beyond the USofA? Strangely, it is!! Golly! An international understanding…and yet, still so USof A-centric…Touchdown is 15:31 EST on August 6 for those in the know (wink!)

zkank July 30, 2012 at 3:48 AM

Since it’s a NASA project, I think you’re being petty to sarcastically suggest the news releases are somehow being narcissistic by catering to the citizens that paid for it.

As for this site, I think I’d be safe to say the lion’s share of viewers are North and South American.

Mean_deviatioN July 30, 2012 at 4:03 AM

NASA = USofA, of that I have no concerns, but isn’t Universe Today an international site? If I became a member, would I need to renounce my current citizenship and become a USofAian?
Petty or not, sarcastic or not, narcissistic or not, inward-looking or not, an international audience has access to this site.
As for this site, I think I’d be safe to say that the lion’s share of viewers are not North and South American…a statement based on what evidence?

Adamn Rat July 31, 2012 at 1:22 AM

Bloody Nora – A major technological achievement, and all some idiots can do is bitch about mentioning time zones (NON american, Like to have time in local format, but not to thick to work it out if i gotta)

Mean_deviatioN July 31, 2012 at 4:18 AM

“Major technological achievement” : choose between this and something a little more important, like, ending world poverty, feeding the whole world’s population, doing something (much better) about the human influence on climate, sharing resources equitably, curbing the influence of the so-called free markets, looking beyond oil…bitch, bitch, bitch, idiot, idiot, idiot…time to go.

squidgeny July 31, 2012 at 12:08 PM

What’s that got to do with the price of fish?

Kevin Frushour July 30, 2012 at 6:03 AM

I’d appreciate both GMT and EST + PST myself. Space and astronomy buff that I am I have a dyslexia and am constantly screwing up “Plus or minus how many?” no matter how many times I read “how to find your time to GMT” over and over.

Aerandir90 July 31, 2012 at 1:03 PM

Are you SJStar’s cousin?

Mean_deviatioN July 31, 2012 at 1:12 PM

Oh, guffaw!! I’m just one of the 6.7 billion (or 95%) or so who aren’t of the USofA, and all that that means.

Dampe July 30, 2012 at 7:57 AM

I told a mate at work that NASA are developing an Iphone ap to view live streaming video via webcam from the surface of Mars. How disappointed he will be in 1 weeks time…

Mean_deviatioN July 30, 2012 at 8:53 AM

I understand how he feels…Iphones are SO disappointing…and it doesn’t take a week to find THAT out. O, and I’m not American either!

Jeff Boerst July 30, 2012 at 6:49 PM

I’m giddier than the Higgs announcement made me…! What a remarkable year!

Mean_deviatioN July 31, 2012 at 12:11 PM

Exactly…but ask Adamn Rat not me…

Mean_deviatioN July 31, 2012 at 12:13 PM

Or perhaps…a major technological achievement of greater use to the majority of humankind and the planet on which we live?

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