Here's a good summary of surface activities and science planned for the Mars Science Laboratory. That Nature article also provides a better measure of the spacecraft's entry and descent velocity that we have: 6 km per second to a standstill. Nature also reports that mission planners estimate there is a 95 percent chance of success, but the problem is the "unknown unknowns" and that the "overall biggest risk is our lack of imagination" NASA JPL is hardly alone on that point:
Thanks for the great interview and story, George. Regarding the sky crane, JPL ran live deployment tests in a hanger, and also accounted for the differences in atmosphere and rocket thrust in digital simulations. Fingers crossed for the final landing! - Tim Nichols, Siemens PLM Software
We've not been able to get a complete rundown on the MSL simulation and testing program, but we do know that there was some actual testing of hardware that most certainly included testing of the rocket motors on the sky crane. Testing of other parts of the entry, descent and landing system are discussed here:
Simulation were widely used for parameters like thermal loads during entry into the Martian atmosphere and to determine how the landing vehicle would handle G loads and severe vibrations.
Cross your fingers that all this preparation will pay off on Monday.
I am interested to learn how this new "Sky Crane" based landing system tested? Was the landing sytem tested by simulating the landing using the software tools (similar to a flight simulator)? Was their any real prototypes of the Sky Crane tested in the laboratory as well?