New Norcia to track Mars Science Laboratory

On 6 August, ESA’s 35m deep space station at New Norcia, Australia, will track the arrival of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory at the Red Planet.

On 31 July, in a test, New Norcia successfully acquired telemetry from MSL at 13:30 CEST; all data was passed to NASA JPL. Two additional test tracking sessions are booked for 2 and 3 August.(We’ll post an update on NNO’s involvement in MSL arrival later in the week.)

ESA's 35m station at New Norcia, Australia, will track NASA's MSL arrival at Mars. Credit: ESA

ESA’s 35m station at New Norcia, Australia, will track NASA’s MSL arrival at Mars. Credit: ESA

More details on NNO via ESA web.

And, if you haven’t seen this yet, surf on over to NASA’s JPL website to access a very cool visualisation tool that demos the entire EDL (entry, descent and landing) phase – note: Java required.


Difference between ‘signal’ and ‘data’

Mars Express orbiting the Red Planet - artist's impression Credit: ESA/Alex Lutkus

Mars Express orbiting the Red Planet – artist’s impression Credit: ESA/Alex Lutkus

If you read the web article last week announcing the planned support by Mars Express for NASA’s MSL landing on Mars  (see ESA’s Mars Express supports dramatic landing on Mars), you may have come away with the impression that Mars Express will receive actual data transmitted by MSL during entry descent and landing.

As pointed out by Michael Khan, a mission analyst at ESOC, the way the article is worded is not actually wrong. However, anyone who doesn’t know the technical details might get the wrong impression.

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Mars Express to track ‘7 minutes of terror’

Interplanetary cooperation: Mars Express to track Curiosity’s dramatic landing on Mars

Welcome to our new Mars Express blog platform (the venerable and hugely valuable MEX blog archive remains available in the Lifetype platform here) where we’re delighted to kick-off publishing with our a report on Mars Express’ support to Curiosity’s arrival at Mars.

On 6 August, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission will conduct a spectacular landing to deliver Curiosity – the largest planetary rover ever flown – onto the Red Planet. ESA’s Mars Express will support the mission’s progress, recording crucial flight data right until ‘wheels down’ on the alien surface.

Mars Express support to NASA MSL arrival at Mars Credit: NASA/ESA

Mars Express support to NASA MSL arrival at Mars Credit: NASA/ESA

At around 07:10 CEST, Mars Express will point its MELACOM communication antenna towards the trajectory of NASA’s MSL and start recording its arrival at the Red Planet early in the morning of the 6th. The data will provide an important and potentially crucial back-up to NASA’s own data and will help reconstruct the entry profile; MSL is also being tracked by NASA’s Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.

Furthermore, several of ESA’s ESTRACK ground stations – the massive 35m deep-space antennas at Cebreros, Spain, and New Norcia, Australia – will also be involved.

Mars Express tracks Curiosity's arrival at Mars Credit: ESA/NASA

Mars Express tracks Curiosity’s arrival at Mars Credit: ESA/NASA

There’s a nice web report today in the main ESA web portal (see “ESA’s Mars Express to support dramatic landing on Mars“). For a fuller, more detailed technical overview of Mars Express involvement in NASA’s historic mission, click on the ‘Continue reading’ link below.

In the next two weeks, we’ll provide regular updates here in the blog as the Mars Express team at ESA get ready for landing.

And don’t miss NASA’s great ‘7 Minutes of Terror video’!

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