WASHINGTON – On Aug. 5, 2012, after completing a nine-month, 354 million mile journey, mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will attempt to break the fall of a rover-carrying spacecraft traveling at about 13,000 miles per hour to zero and set down the rover in a Martian crater.
The landing sequence for the Mars rover Curiosity is called the “Seven Minutes of Terror.”
For the first time, NASA will use an untried descent and landing technique to lower Curiosity to the surface near Gale Crater using a sky crane. The entire landing sequence will be controlled by computers relying about 500,000 lines of code that will control no less than 76 rockets and thrusters.Mission managers won’t know whether it worked for 14 minutes, the time it takes a signal from Mars to travel back to Earth.
To the casual observer, using a sky crane to land on Mars may look crazy, but “it is the result of reasoned engineering thought,” argues JPL’s Adam Steltzner, chief engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory.
“If any one thing doesn’t work just right, it’s game over,” adds JPL’s Tom Rivellini.
Previous Martian landings used what amounted to air bags to break the fall of rovers. Curiosity is too big and heavy – about the size of an SUV – to use that landing method. Hence, JPL engineers came up with a system of braking rockets, a huge parachute and the sky crane to slow Curiosity’s fiery entry into the faint Martian atmosphere and gently deposit it in Gale Crater, which is suspected of harboring signs of Martian life.
The JPL engineers and scientists are sticking their necks way out on this mission, and that’s precisely the type of technological risk-taking that is needed to explore the solar system with our marvelous machines.
Could the 14-minute waiting time be compared to the anticipation that the Cape Canaveral control room experienced waiting for the Apollo missions to the moon back in the 1960s? Seems then there was also a waiting period before confirmation that the Eagle had landed. Maybe this is much more hazardous, and good that it is unmanned.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6R3j1NU2nQM
Comms delays for Apollo was more like 2 seconds, and there was constant telemetry flowing back to Houston mission control during lunar descent. Indeed, the LM crews were always being told to realign their antennas so Houston could continue receiving systems telemetry and voice. The difference of course was that there were two humans aboard. We're a long way from a manned Martian landing.
That is a lot of unproven technologies to try all on the same mission. The reasoning is logical, but the end result could be a catastrophic waste of time and money. I'd be interested to hear what JPL's engineers calculated was the probability of success.
Is it irony or subtle humor that the graphic at about 0:21 says "500,000 LINES OF [sic] COD3", followed by "ZERO MARGIN OF ERROR"? Just hoping we're not back to the era of the km/miles debacle and sensors on spring-loaded legs without debouncing.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.