| June 23 2012 7:00 EDT
ForexTV.com (New York) by Timothy Kelly
At the precise moment that NASA engineers receive a radio signal from the Mars rover, Curiosity, that it has entered the top of Martian atmosphere, the rover will have already met its fate on the Martian surface…as a successful landing, or a debris field. Mars is so far away that it takes over fourteen minutes for a communication signal to reach earth.
The communication latency is only a small obstacle in the effort to land a probe on a planet approximately 78 million miles away. The actual distance from earth to Mars does vary depending on the orbit cycle anywhere from 36 million miles to 250 million miles, with each planet hurtling through space at speeds over 10,000 miles per hour. Curiosity will slam into the Martian atmosphere at a speed of 13.000 miles per hour.
From the top of Mars’ atmosphere to the planet surface takes seven minutes. Engineers at the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have the challenge of going from 13,000 miles per hour to zero in seven minutes to safely touch down on Mars. Those closest to the project have dubbed this entry sequence window “7 minutes of terror.” It is the most critical time in the years-long journey and there is zero margin for error. Further complicating the challenge to rapidly reducing entry into the Martian atmosphere is the fact that Mars’ atmosphere is 100 times less dense than Earth.
The drag created from entry into the thin atmosphere will slow the space craft to a mere 1,000 miles per hour and generate heat build-up at 1600 degrees on the heat shields; at which point a 100 pound parachute will deploy creating a massive 9G jolt. After the chute deploys, the heat shields will be jettisoned, giving sight to craft’s radar array. Now travelling at 200 mph, a jet-powered sky crane harnessing the Curiosity Rover will separate from the backshell, which is still tethered to the chute. The sky crane will perform an evasive maneuver so as not to get tangled in the chute and lower the rover to the surface and jettison itself away from the landing site.
The Cuiosity is expected to touch down at precicely 10:31pm PDT on August 5, 2012.
This video shows what this process might look like:
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