European Space Agency was involved in the Mars Curiosity landing
Scottish news: European and UK involvement in Mars Curiosity landing
by Cameron Ings-Hodgson
"Today is a very, very successful day for space, not only for Nasa but the whole of nations on the globe,” said Manfred Warhaut, head of the Mission Operations Department at the European Space Agency (ESA), in an interview yesterday with EUobserver.
The Mars Science laboratory, launched in November last year from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force station, travelled about 567 million km before hitting the Martian atmosphere at speeds of approximately 20,000 km per hour.
The Mars rover which will search for any signs of biological activity, past or present, was not just an American project however - there was also European involvement and within that a British involvement. The very first images beamed back from the Curiosity rover were sent via the ESA’s Mars Express satellite, which has been orbiting 200,000km above the planet since 2003. NASA have two satellites orbiting Mars but they are both older and less reliable than the Mars Express satellite.
ESA’s Mars Express satellite was originally designed to travel with the Beagle 2 (which crashed) and perform a variety of scientific tests from orbit. The Satellite tracked and recorded the Mars Scientific Laboratory’s (MSL) entry and landing during the “seven minutes of terror” for scientists at NASA and also carries an on-board interface which allows it to communicate with the previous generation of rovers, which are still active on the Mars’ surface. The Mars Express Lander Communications subsystem MELACOM will support the rover during its operational life on the surface of the Red Planet.
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ESA has also assisted with the communications aspect of the project from Earth through the ground network of 35 meter diameter deep-space antennas, which provided a “hot back-up” should NASA’s own deep-space antennas have failed. Also, the first news that the rover had stuck the landing was received via the ESA's Norcia antenna in western Australia, which registered MSL's "heart beat" signals and notified NASA that the rover had landed safely.
Qinetiq, a tech company based in Hampshire, built the transceiver which transmits for the Mars Express the signals from the MSI through entry, descent and landing on the planet were sent via UK tech.
The high performance imaging sensors installed in Curiosity’s Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) and Chemistry & Camera instrument (CheCam) were designed and built by Chelmsford-based technology company e2v
The UK also has specialists involved with the MSL project. Two UK scientists backed by over £500,000 pounds of government spending power were selected by NASA to participate. Professor Gupta and Dr Bridges will be working with NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California over next few months, where they will be analysing scientific data.
The European Space Agency has its own Mars missions, which are scheduled for 2016 and 2018, but budgetary constraints on Nasa means the US will not be participating in the Esa missions.
"Nasa was heavily impacted by significant budget cuts and cost overruns. They had to postpone the [curiosity] mission by two years," said Warhaut.
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