Curiosity Less than 100 Days from Mars

Curiosity
Artist’s Concept: Sky Crane Lands Curiosity in Gale Crater on Mars
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

On Friday, 27 April, Curiosity was 100 days from touchdown on Mars. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) had about 191 million kilometers to go and was closing at a speed of 21,000 kilometers per hour.

Following its launch on 26 November, 2011, Curiosity is scheduled to touch down on 5 August, sometime around 10:30 PM Phoenix time (6 August UTC).

Curiosity weighs about 900 kilograms, and cannot use the airbag method that landed the previous rovers: Spirit and Opportunity.

Instead, the Landing of Curiosity on the surface of Mars will be performed by a rocket powered Sky Crane. The initial part of the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) will use a 4.5 meter wide aeroshell heat shield that can be steered toward the Gale Crater landing site. About 10 kilometers above the surface, and traveling at mach 2 (1500 meters/second), the main parachute will deploy. At slightly under two (2) kilometers, the Sky Crane will take over, using its eight (8) rocket engines. Just above the surface, four (4) rocket engines will remain thrusting while the MSL is lowered to the surface. The Sky Crane will then accelerate away from the landing site.

Curiosity
Entry, Descent and Landing
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech