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Mars NASA Science Technology

New Curiosity Rover Landing Target May Save Months Travel to Prime Destination 64

coondoggie writes with an update on the Mars Science Laboratory. From the article: "Even as it hurtles towards an August 5 rendezvous with the red planet, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is being fine-tuned for a more precise landing and better operations once it reaches its destination. NASA today gave a status report for the MSL which was launched November 2011, and is still over 17.5 million kilometers away from Mars. Of major interest today was the fact NASA said it has narrowed landing target for the Mars rover, Curiosity letting it touch down closer to its ultimate destination for science operations, but also closer to the foot of a mountain slope that poses a landing hazard, the agency said." From NASA: "The larger ellipse, 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) by 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) was already smaller than the landing target area for any previous Mars mission, due to this mission's techniques for improved landing precision. Continuing analysis after the Nov. 26, 2011, launch resulted in confidence in landing within an even smaller area [handy diagram], about 12 miles by 4 miles (20 by 7 kilometers). Using the smaller ellipse, the Mars Science Laboratory Project also moved the center of the target closer to the mountain, which holds geological layers that are the prime destination for the rover. ... 'We're trimming the distance we'll have to drive after landing by almost half,' said Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory project manager ... 'That could get us to the mountain months earlier.'"
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New Curiosity Rover Landing Target May Save Months Travel to Prime Destination

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  • by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @07:52PM (#40290413)
    ...if you smash land into the damn thing.
    Just remember to convert your units correctly! []
    • All calculations were done in dog-years, so they're really not saving that much time.

    • by sFurbo ( 1361249 )
      Lithobreaking is an accepted strategy for landing probes. Preferably not too heavy or fragile probes, though.
    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      ...if you smash land into the damn thing.

      Actually, that's what they're going to do! Seriously! They're not crashing the rover, but they're crashing the lander. The lander is a flying crane that will lower the rover by cable, fly off, and crash somewhere else on Mars.

      I'm surprised that nobody's submitted a story I saw on Google News this morning about possible teflon contamination of samples, and how they plan on remediating it.

  • Ellipse? I love how the world is really Gaussian.

  • by Covalent ( 1001277 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @08:18PM (#40290601)
    I thought they had somehow found a way to get to Mars months sooner.

    Imagine my disappointment upon learning that they are landing closer and so just ended up with a shorter drive. (end sarcasm)

    In all seriousness, this rover has some amazing hardware that has the best chance yet of finding microbial life on Mars.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ...if it exists. Otherwise they all have the same chance: zero.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "In all seriousness, this rover has some amazing hardware that has the best chance yet of finding microbial life on Mars."

      It's funny that you should say that, because this rover still doesn't have a simple but critical instrument for detecting microbial life: a microscope powerful enough to see microbes.

      Does NASA have an explanation for why none of the rovers have had a microscope at least powerful enough to see average-sized bacteria?

      More to the point, why doesn't Curiosity have one? This rover is the hea

      • I think I remember hearing that Congress wouldn't open the checkbook if NASA looked for 'Signs of Life'. They're allowed to look for 'Conditions That Might or Might Not Have Been Able to Support Life in the Distant Past". Something about ultra-conservative Christians, I think.

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        They're looking for evidence of life in Mars' past; carbon and such. It's doubtful (but possible) there's any there now. It would take an ultra-extreme extremophile to live on that little air or water. And with a microscope, how do you know if it's a cell or just something that looks like a cell? The rover will be doing chemistry.

        I'd bet the chances of life on one of the gas giants' moons would be more likely, if there's anough tidal heating for liquid water.

    • It sounds like the usual air travel problem, where the driving and check in/out takes longer than the flight itself.
    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      That is true, but advances in how accurately we can land is very important for the possibility of a multi-landing mission like for example a Mars base almost certainly will be. It would not do very well to have your cargo/robots/crew/resupply mission impact on your base, or to have it land far, far away. Of course it's possible the micro-navigation - avoiding a small base in the landing area is better than the macro-navigation - hitting the landing area but the more controlled the better.

  • I just wish we could actually watch it land... That is going to be a spectacle.
    • Re:Sky Crane! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @08:45PM (#40290761)

      I was told that are plans to have the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image the landing. If anything goes wrong, this might provide the only knowledge of what failed and, if it works, the pictures should be pretty spectacular.

      • by toygeek ( 473120 )

        And if it fails, the picture should be even MORE spectacular!

        In all seriousness, I wish the MSL team the best. That is an amazing robot they're sending.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They'll upload 720p video from MARDI (descent imager) if the landing is successful.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Will Opportunity be in range to take pics of the decent through the atmosphere? Cuz pics or it doesn't count...

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:15PM (#40290971)
    I am curious what specific techniques they have refined - how is navigation towards the surface of Mars performed? Is there optical tracking of visual features on the surface (ala Buzz Aldrin or a robotic pilot?) Do they navigate with respect to satellites in known locations around Mars (ala GPS), or celestial navigation? Or is it largely ballistic (based on conditions well ahead of time and predictions based on orbital mechanics, leaving little to final steering corrections?)
    • by icebike ( 68054 ) *

      They do have some satellites in orbit, and a couple on the ground that they can still talk to, but I doubt they are relying on these for guidance. Certainly there is no fleet of GPS satellites circling the planet (although if we keep sending landers, that might not be a bad idea).

      I think they rely on radar and optical maps produced by predecessors such as Mars Global Surveyor, (no longer working) and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to build camera and radar maps that they can use to set up landing approach

    • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2012 @12:50AM (#40292317)

      Range, Doppler, and VLBI, all from Earth (and all done by the DSN). I don't believe that this mission is using Optical Navigation. No (other) Mars spacecraft participate directly in this, although of course the Mars ephemeris is dominated by data from them. It is an iterative process, where an initial trajectory is refined by course corrections and monitored more or less continuously, with the measurement tempo increasing as Mars entry gets near.

      If you want to drill down into this, here [] is a good starting point focusing on Mars entry navigation.

      • by mbone ( 558574 )

        And, if you want to know how we know where Mars is to within 10's of meters in real time, read this [].

  • by Trogre ( 513942 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:20PM (#40291001) Homepage

    Even for a computer.

  • by MacGyver2210 ( 1053110 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @10:55PM (#40291637)


    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
      What happens when mars missions navigation systems are farmed out to the lowest bidder. []

    • So, no-one else got the Tom Tom GPS joke?
      • just you. we don't drive, and when we do we know where we're going. ... i thought it was a Garmin thing, anyway.

      • by cusco ( 717999 )
        I actually prefer maps. I like knowing how I got from Point A to Point G, and where I am in relation to Points F and D. A GPS will get me from here to there with no brain work, but thinking is more fun. With a GPS you only go where you're supposed to and don't run into random oddities, like the park I wandered into last night with the dozens and dozens of fireflies. Besides, sometimes being lost can be as interesting as the rest of your trip.

        Oh, and get off my yard!
        • Me too! I find navigating by GPS is an inversion of the ideal human / machine relationship, where the person does the creative thinking and the machine does all the boring labor. Turn-by-turn GPS strips away all the fun planning and exploring from driving, and leaves you with only the mindlessly mechanical task of pressing the gas and turning the wheel when prompted.

          Turn off the GPS... fight the machine!

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