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  • EEVblog #328 – Curiosity Mars Rover Landing

    Posted on August 3rd, 2012 EEVblog 24 comments


    Forum Topic HERE

    On August 5th/6th 2012 the NASA JPL Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover called Curiosity will land on Mars using an innovative new “Sky Crane” technique. Will it be systems engineering’s finest hour?, or a spectacular and costly failure?

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    • http://www.go-ev.co.uk Greg Fordyce

      Reminds me of the classic game, http://www.atari.com/lunarlander

      Greg

      • Jay Ts

        NASA/JPL actually created an MSL landing game for XBOX Kinect:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wnECM1ae4w

        Our tax dollars at work! If anyone wants to complain about NASA wasting money, maybe they can start with this. There are no scientific results from this project that I know of, and they are giving it away for free so it’s not even bringing in any money! (I’m kidding, of course. I assume that since it was created with public funds, they aren’t even allowed to charge anything for it. So have fun.)

    • Software_Samurai

      It’s either going to be a spectacular success, or a spectacular failure.
      So break out the popcorn and get ready for some good entertainment!

      I think future planetary probes should be outfitted with tiny detachable cameras that can video stream the whole sequence back to Earth. Something like a tiny Arduino board with a tiny camera and a tiny parachute that can follow the lander all the way down. Wouldn’t that be cool?

      • Software_Samurai

        …and it turned out to be a spectacular success!

        Congrats to the whole team there. They can now breath again!

        BTW: Curiosity has it’s own twitter account, in case you didn’t know. http://twitter.com/MarsCuriosity

    • KJ6EAD

      “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

      John F. Kennedy

      Americans like big challenges.

    • David

      Only a Committee of Government Bureaucrats could come up with an overly complex and expensive landing system like this.

      If you locked a handful of real Systems Engineers in a room and told them to sort this out – I’ll bet something really elegant would result. Did we learn nothing from Spirit and Opportunity?

      If this thing actually works, it’ll be a hugely overpriced miracle.

      • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

        Spirit and Opportunity are 1/5 the weight of Curiosity. It’s likely that due the size and weight of Curiosity, this was the best option.

      • JoeLaBidouille

        For the cost, it’s clear that is a important amount of money.
        Anyway, it’s not just a piece of breadbord with an arduino on it.
        2.5 B$ for 5 years of program, including a launch which is about 200M$.

      • Bill R

        Just to give you an idea how big it is, it weighs just over 2000 pounds and is the size of a car. Here is a new clip NASA is putting out. Shortly into the clip there is a shot of the rover in the lab with a worker next to it. I cannot imagine trying to slow that thing down. I understand your doubt, but it is a large craft for putting it into a bouncing ball like the last one.

      • Jay Ts

        Don’t be so critical. Seriously, if you have a better way to do it, you can work as a contractor to NASA and make money with your idea. You may find that landing a small car on Mars is not as easy as you think. I worked for NASA/JPL for a short time years ago, and I have followed their progress since then. I feel confident that JPL has about the best engineers on the planet. Their challenge is not to see how much money they can spend, but how to get the most value out of what little they get, while being open and standing up to public scrutiny. (That is something the military and private corporations do not have to deal with, unless they really screw up.) No one is better than NASA/JPL at sending anything to Mars. That fact by itself should be enough for anyone.

        • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

          I was not critical of it. You obviously didn’t get the gist of what I was trying to say. If you didn’t watch the end, I said it would work. I was just saying that it “sounded crazy”, just like the engineers at JPL have said in their own videos!
          It does sounds crazy, but is the result of good reasoned engineering.

    • rick

      And it looks like it has a nuclear powered engine. Nobody speaks about that.

      • Jay Ts

        There is at least one video created by NASA that explains about the plutonium reactor in MSL. They use the heat along with thermocouples to generate electricity. For a rover of this size and weight, for a mission of at least 2 years, there is no way they can use solar panels. The atmosphere of Mars is mostly carbon dioxide already, so burning gasoline is also out. :D

      • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

        Why would they? They have been used on many probes and landers before.

    • allan

      If the Sky Crane works, and the Rover drives away on the surface,
      I will be mighty impressed!

    • allan

      If any part of the complex descent maneuver fails, I bet it will be the Sky Crane “cutting loose” after the Rover’s weight is transferred to the lunar surface. I bet this part will go haywire.

    • allan

      oops, Martian surface….

    • http://www.elproducts.com Chuck

      Dave,
      Do you work from any kind of script?
      It’s amazing how you remember all those technical details so easily.
      You must have been studying this for a while.
      Well done video with the NASA video inserted.

      • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

        No script. Truth be told though, very rarely like on this one where I wanted to rattle off lots of technical points and get it in one continuous shot, I did have a whiteboard behind the camera with bullets point names of the landing sequence (13 I think!), so I wouldn’t forget one.
        But it’s not like I rehearsed it or did retakes or anything, just stopped once or twice and then continued on due to getting tongue tied. I still didn’t know what I would say until I hit the record button.

    • http://wardyprojects.blogspot.com Adam Ward

      I’m with Chuck, this vid was really slick. Nice work Dave.

    • chris

      And they did it !!! :D
      Congratulations to them.

    • GR

      Watched the live video feed from the control room at JPL. Any skepticism that one would have held regarding such a costly mission would have quickly been erased as soon as they saw the genuine relief and intense jubilation that the crew shared once they knew that Curiosity had landed without incident. It was obviously the culmination of many years of dedicated planning and intense work.

    • http://www.go-ev.co.uk Greg Fordyce

      I just saw this on the Curiosity website. “Silicon chips carry the names of people who participated in the “Send Your Name to Mars” program prior to the rover’s launch. More than 1.24 million names were submitted online. These names were etched into silicon using an electron-beam machine used for fabricating microdevices at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, along with submissions from the semi-finalist students who participated in the rover naming contest. In addition, more than 20,000 visitors to JPL and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center wrote their names on pages that were scanned and reproduced at microscopic scale on another chip.” Gutted I missed that one, Dave did you get your name etched onto Curiosity?

      • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

        Shit, I missed it too! :-( My nae is supposed to be on the Phoenix lander though.