Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How Will MSL Navigate to Mars?

How Will MSL Navigate to Mars? Very Precisely:
Getting the Mars Science Laboratory to the Red Planet isn’t as easy as just strapping the rover on an Atlas V rocket and blasting it in the general direction of Mars. Spacecraft navigation is a very precise and constant science, and in simplest terms, it entails determining where the spacecraft is at all times and keeping it on course to the desired destination.


And, says MSL navigation team chief Tomas Martin-Mur, the only way to accurately get the Curiosity rover to Mars is for the spacecraft to constantly be looking in the rearview mirror at Earth.


“What we do is ‘drive’ the spacecraft using data from the Deep Space Network,” Martin–Mur told Universe Today. “If you think about it, we never see Mars. We don’t have an optical navigation camera or any other instruments to be able to see or sense Mars. We are heading to Mars, all the while looking back to Earth, and with measurements from the Earth we are able to get to Mars with a very high accuracy.”