Mars Phoenix: Those amazing space men and their flying machines

MRO, or Mars Reconnaisaince Orbiter, with the high resolution camera, got a shot of Phoenix during the descent.

Look at this image, look at it!!!

Mars Phoenix on descent, as seen from Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter
Smaller bright point, below, is Phoenix spacecraft, with parachute (larger bright spot, above) deployed.
(NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

Jim Erickson, mission manager for MRO, spoke to us last night at Planetfest. He described how a coupla days ago, the Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) team said to him, “wouldn’t it be nice to take a picture midflight?” (during descent, with the chute deployed) MRO’s Prime Objective during this time is to be overhead, well within radio transmission space, record all the data being transmitted from Phoenix. (Phoenix is broadcasting all the info from its instrumentation during EDL. Very Important Stuff.) That’s Job One.

A photo? Gravy. In order to do Job Two, they have to predict where, exactly it’s going to be. And when it’s going to be there. Point the high resolution camera right at it, and snap! All this has to take place ahead of time. Far head of time. Remember, there’s a 15+ minute timelag for any command sent from Earth to Mars. None of this immediate point the camera. Where? There. There? No, there. Oh (move camera). Okay, got it. If a hockey player’s job is to skate where the puck will be, moreso a very high resolution camera.

Oh, and the prediction of where changed very late in the game. After Erickson’s team had lined up the location based on the probable TCM 5 (trajectory control maneuver #5, which would have happened w/in less than a day of entering the atmosphere, it turns out TCM 5 wasn’t needed. So they had to recalculate it all over again. And upload the instructions and send them to MRO.

In my last entry, I mentioned that the chute deployed 7 seconds late. Given the timing camera takes such a narrow swath of the Martian sky, looking down, Erickson didn’t know if the image would be taken too late.

So I’m totally gobsmacked that they got it. Not only did they get it, but they now know the EXACT position of Phoenix at that time. That’s most excellent info that will get fed back into the engineering models of how spacecraft operate during EDL. Not only do we get a fabulous picture of the spacecraft, and parachute, but JPL gets juicy data that helps em safely land spacecraft on our planetary neighbor.

5 responses to “Mars Phoenix: Those amazing space men and their flying machines”

  1. Roman Otsima

    Hope you didn’t take offense at my play on words, I just got a chuckle out of your comment and wanted to expand on it 😉

    Thanks for having your page linked with your name over at the field, this is a cool blog. I get a kick out of this stuff too.


    “The Great Gig in the Sky” is the fifth track from British progressive rock band Pink Floyd’s 1973 album, The Dark Side of the Moon. It features soaring voice instrumental music by Clare Torry. The song was called “The Religion Song” during recording”

  2. Susan A. Kitchens

    Didn’t see it until after I saw your comment come through… glad for the explanation, tho. It does help. Glad you came to see the ole blog. Exciting stuff going on around here, what with all that Mars stuff. Was gonna pop a note in an open thread at the field, but never got a round tuit.

    Will watch the video when my eyelids aren’t so heavy (would go to bed, but have a potroast cooking and need to tend it for another hour tonight. oy. The video is a leeetle too restful and soporific).

  3. Roman Otsima

    sorry, din mean to make ya drowsy. I’d post another of something with a charge to it, but I have no clue what kind of music you like, so maybe I should just quit while I am ahead 😉

  4. Roman Otsima

    Oh wait, saw the link, doh. Ya like bagpipes? It ain’t noise pollution.–lbk


  5. Roman Otsima