Letter From The Editor: Curiousity The Mars Rover


by Claude Julian | ARCHIVES

Stunner Baby Magazine is quite intrigued by the thought of space travel to Mars. Deeply driven by man’s technology advancements motivated an in depth probe into Curiosity: The Next Mars Rover. About the size of a small SUV, NASA’s Curiosity rover is well equipped for a tour of Gale Crater on Mars.

This impressive rover has six-wheel drive and the ability to turn in place a full 360 degrees, as well as the agility to climb steep hills. During a nearly two-year prime mission after landing on Mars, the rover will investigate whether Gale Crater ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life. On Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the payload fairing protecting NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) launched a 197-foot-tall United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) pad at Space Launch Complex 41.

The rocket currently in transit to Mars, it was launched November 26, 2011, at 10:02 ESTand is scheduled to land on Mars at Gale Crater on August 6, 2012 (about 10pm in the evening of August 5 PDT, the time used by the mission controllers in Pasadena, California). If MSL arrives at Mars, it will attempt a more precise landing than attempted previously and then help assess Mars’s habitability.

“A primary mission objective is to determine whether Mars is or has ever been an environment able to support life, though it will not look for any specific type of life. Rather, it is intended to chemically analyze samples in various ways, including scooping up soil, drill rocks, and with a laser and sensor system.”

Curiosity rover is five times larger than Spirit or Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers and carries more than ten times the mass of scientific instruments designed to search for signs of life, including methane, and help determine if the gas is from a biological or geological source. MSL was launched by an Atlas V 541 rocket and after its journey to Mars and then landing, is designed to explore for at least 687 Earth days (1 Martian year) over a range of 5-20 km (3-12 miles).
Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of Mars, and the project is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of California Institute of Technology for NASA. Doug McCuistion of NASA’s Planetary Science Division is the Director of the Mars Exploration Program. The total cost of the MSL project is about US$2.5 billion.

Communications: Curiosity has two means of communication – an X-band transmitter and receiver that can communicate directly with Earth, and a UHF Electra (radio)-lite software-defined radio for communicating with Mars orbiters. Communication with orbiters is expected to be the main contributor to data return to Earth, since the orbiters have both more power and larger antennas than the lander. At landing time, 13 minutes, 46 seconds will be required for signals to travel between Earth and Mars.

Mobility systems: Like previous rovers Mars Exploration Rovers and Mars Pathfinder, Curiosity is equipped with 6 wheels in a rocker-bogie suspension. The suspension system will also serve as landing gear for the vehicle, unlike its smaller predecessors. Curiosity’s wheels are significantly larger than those used on previous rover. Each wheel has a pattern which helps it maintain traction but also leaves patterned tracks in the sandy surface of Mars. That pattern is used by on-board cameras to judge the distance traveled.  The temperature on Mars is no joke in the potential areas at which Curiosity may land can vary from (+86 °F to −197 °F). Therefore, the Heat rejection system (HRS) uses fluid pumped through 60 m (200 ft) of tubing in the MSL body so that sensitive components are kept at optimal temperatures. Other methods of heating the internal components include using radiated heat generated from the components in the craft itself, as well as excess heat from the MMRTG unit. The HRS also has the ability to cool components if necessary.

Landing a large mass on Mars is a difficult challenge. The atmosphere is thick enough to prevent rockets being used to provide significant deceleration, as flying into the plume at supersonic speed is notoriously unstable. Also, the atmosphere is too thin for parachutes and aerobraking alone to be effective. Although some previous missions have used airbags to cushion the shock of landing, the MSL is too large for this to be an option.  Curiosity will be set down on the Martian surface using a new high-precision entry, descent, and landing (EDL) system that will place it within a 20 km (12 mi) landing ellipse, in contrast to the 150 by 20 km (93 by 12 mi) landing ellipse of the landing systems used by the Mars Exploration Rovers.

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