The above image is a composite of two artist's conceptions. The left is Mars Odyssey in orbit of Mars. The right is the Mars Science Laboratory / Curiosity spacecraft during entry and landing. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Amid a corporate sigh of relief, NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has successfully adjusted its orbital location to be in a better position to provide prompt confirmation of the August landing of the Curiosity rover.
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, carrying Curiosity, can send limited information directly to Earth as it enters Mars' atmosphere. Before the landing, Earth will set below the Martian horizon from the descending spacecraft's perspective, ending that direct route of communication. Odyssey will help to speed up the indirect communication process.
NASA planned for Odyssey to provide a near-real-time communication link with Curiosity during the landing. But Odyssey entered safe mode July 11th following a brief thruster burn to reposition the orbiter. If the safe mode had happened during the entry and landing, communication would have been affected, but not the rover's automated landing. But Odyssey needed yet another repositioning maneuver, or Odyssey would arrived over the landing area about two minutes after Curiosity landed.
So a spacecraft thruster burn on July 24th, lasting about six seconds, has nudged Odyssey about six minutes ahead in its orbit. Odyssey is now operating normally, and confirmation of Curiosity's landing is expected to reach Earth at about 10:31 PM PDT on August 5 (1:31 AM EDT / 05:31 UTC August 6), as originally planned.
NASA engineers have noted that Odyssey is the longest operating Mars spacecraft, so it was appropriate that Odyssey have a special role in supporting the newest arrival.Two other Mars orbiters, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and the European Space Agency's Mars Express, also will be in position to receive radio transmissions from the Mars Science Laboratory during its descent. However, they will be recording information for later playback, not relaying it immediately, as only Odyssey can.
Odyssey arrived at Mars in 2001. Besides conducting its own scientific observations, it has served as a communication relay for NASA's Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers and the Phoenix lander on the Martian surface. NASA plans to use Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as communication relays for Curiosity during that rover's two-year prime mission on Mars.
And now, the mission particulars...
Odyssey and the Mars Science Laboratory, with its Curiosity rover, are managed for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (Caltech). Curiosity was built at JPL.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built Odyssey. JPL and Lockheed Martin collaborate on operating Odyssey.
For more about the Mars Odyssey mission, visit mars.jpl.nasa.gov/odyssey. For information about the Curiosity landing, visit www.nasa.gov/mars and mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl.