NASA Mars Curiosity Rover To Beam Signals To Australia
By Srinivas Laxman | Top News
August 2, 2012
Australia will be the first country to receive signals from NASA’s 900 kg Curiosity Mars Rover when it initiates its risk-ridden entry, descent, and landing maneuver on Monday.
AsianScientist (Aug. 2, 2012) – Australia, not the United States, will be the first country to receive signals from NASA’s 900 kg Curiosity Mars Rover when it initiates its risk-ridden entry, descent, and landing maneuver on Monday which has been described as “Seven Minutes of Terror.”
When Curiosity touches down on Mars’ Gale Crater it will be at 3.31 p.m. Melbourne time. The crater was named in 1991 after Australian astronomer and banker, Walter F. Gale, who died in 1945. Gale discovered comets and drew maps of Mars and Jupiter.
Australia will be the first nation to receive signals from Mars because of its unique advantage of having a direct view of the touchdown zone.
Controllers at the Tidbinbilla tracking station near Canberra will be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the mission as Curiosity slams into the Martian atmosphere at a whopping velocity of 13,000 mph, begins its descent, and lands in just seven nerve-wracking minutes.
This tracking station is a part of NASA’s deep space network and is one of three in the world – the other two being Madrid and Goldstone in California – which will receive and transmit data from Curiosity.
Australian tracking stations have always provided support to various NASA missions including Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk on July 20, 1969.
This time, however, the risk level is extremely high as several new technologies are being tested for the first time.
After touchdown, Curiosity will first flash a signal to NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter, from where it will be transmitted to Tidbinbilla, and then relayed to the mission operations control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
A spokesperson for the Canberra Deep Space Communication Network, Glen Nagle, has been quoted as saying that the 107 controllers at Tidbinbilla will play the role of air traffic controllers in space on Monday.
Though the staff at Tidbinbilla will be the first to receive signals from Curiosity, they will not know, however, whether the mission has succeeded or not until the data has been analyzed at JPL.
In addition to the Tidbinbilla station, giant antennas across Australia will also be positioned to receive signals from Curiosity. The antennas are located at Canberra, Parkes, and New Norcia, near Perth. Staff at the Canberra station have been training for three years for Monday’s landing event.
The Canberra station, which will be open to the public on Monday, has even organized a Mars landing party to commemorate the historic touchdown. Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that the mission would be successful.
“We really want to make a bunch of mission scientists happy. We will be watching the monitor of the mission control center for the scientists’ reaction. If they are jumping up and down and smiling, then we know it is good information we have sent them. We call that monitor the glee monitor,” Nagle said.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex.
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