Commands away!

Mars Express has now been almost fully prepared for the upcoming arrival of MSL! This week’s Spacecraft Operations Coordinator, James Godfrey, has confirmed that all the commands to Mars Express for the MSL tracking activities have been transmitted to Mars.

Two clicks (and a lot of background work!) was all it took to start the command file transmission to Mars Express. At 11:04 CEST our Spacecraft Controller at ESOC hit the ARM button then the GO button and the commands began their journey to Mars. Take a look at the video above to see the commands flying off our control system.

From the control system at ESOC they were sent around the world to our deep space antenna at New Norcia, Australia, and from there they were modulated onto a radio signal and blasted with 10 kilowatts (that’s like 10,000 mobile phones all calling at once!) from the antenna toward Mars.

Their journey of 245,750,000 km took 13 minutes and 39 seconds. Once they arrived, Mars Express turned the radio signal back into bits and bytes and stored it on the spacecraft.

The whole command file contained all the instructions for Mars Express to follow over the next week of operations, including the critical instructions to the spacecraft to perform ESA’s support of the MSL landing with Mars Express. These commands will wait on the spacecraft’s on-board memory (its ‘hard drive’) and then execute automatically according to the schedule we created here on Earth.

NASA MSL mission communicates with ESA station


This just in from Wolfgang Hell, one of our ESTRACK engineers looking after the ESA station support to MSL. ESA’s 35m New Norcia (NNO) station made contact with MSL earlier this afternoon — and the connection went fine! Wolfgang wrote:

We had a fully nominal MSL pass over NNO and NASA JPL reports that the telemetry obtained via the first communication chain at NNO was error free. I expect reports for data receipt from chains 2 and 3 during the upcoming telecon.


ESA’s New Norcia station elevating for tracking pass

Next Monday, around 12:00 local, this is how ESA’s superb (may we also say beautiful?) 35m deep-space tracking station at New Norcia, Australia, will appear as it swings into position to track Mars Express and listen for NASA’s Mars Science Lab.

Clip recorded in April 2012 showing ESA’s 35m deep-space tracking station at New Norcia, Australia, swinging into action to conduct a communication pass. DSA-1 is designed for deep-space satellite missions and provides daily support to Mars Express, Rosetta and Venus Express for routine operations. The mechanical movable structure weighs 580 tonnes. Engineers can point it with a speed of 0.4 degrees per second in both axes (horizontal and vertical). Its Servo Control System provides the highest possible pointing accuracy under the site’s environmental, wind and temperature conditions. More details via