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MSL / Curiosity
Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Mission to Mars

Mission Type: Rover
Launch Vehicle: Atlas V 541
Launch Site: Launch Complex 41, Cape Canaveral Air Force station, Fla.
NASA Center: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Spacecraft Mass: 8,463 pounds (3,893 kilograms) total at launch, consisting of 1,982-pound (899-kilogram) rover; 5,293-pound (2,401-kilogram) entry, descent and land- ing system (aeroshell plus fueled descent stage); and 1,188-pound (539-kilogram) fueled cruise stage
Spacecraft Instruments: 65 pounds (75 kilograms) in 10 instruments: Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, Chemistry and Camera, Chemistry and Mineralogy, Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons, Mars Descent Imager, Mars Hand Lens Imager, Mast Camera, Radiation Assessment Detector, rover environmental Monitoring station, and sample Analysis at Mars
Spacecraft Dimensions: Rover dimensions: Length: 9 feet, 10 inches (3.0 meters) (not counting arm); width: 9 feet, 1 inch (2.8 meters); height at top of mast: 7 feet (2.1 meters); arm length: 7 feet (2.1 meters); wheel diameter: 20 inches (0.5 meter)
Spacecraft Power: Multi-mission radioisotope thermoelec- tric generator and lithium-ion batteries
Total Cost: $2.5 billion, including $1.8 billlion for spacecraft development and science investigations and additional amounts for launch and operations.
References:
Mars Science Laboratory, NASA Facts, October 2011
Mars Science Laboratory Launch Press Kit, November 2011


Mars Science Laboratory is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Launched on Nov. 26, 2011, 7:02 a.m. PST (10:02 a.m. EST). Mars Science Laboratory is a rover that will assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet's "habitability."
Mars Science Laboratory will study Mars' habitability

To find out, the rover will carry the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the martian surface. The rover will analyze dozens of samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. The record of the planet's climate and geology is essentially "written in the rocks and soil" -- in their formation, structure, and chemical composition. The rover's onboard laboratory will study rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and will assess what the martian environment was like in the past.

Mars Science Laboratory relies on innovative technologies

Mars Science Laboratory will rely on new technological innovations, especially for landing. The spacecraft will descend on a parachute and then, during the final seconds prior to landing, lower the upright rover on a tether to the surface, much like a sky crane. Once on the surface, the rover will be able to roll over obstacles up to 75 centimeters (29 inches) high and travel up to 90 meters (295 feet) per hour. On average, the rover is expected to travel about 30 meters (98 feet) per hour, based on power levels, slippage, steepness of the terrain, visibility, and other variables.

The rover will carry a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium's radioactive decay. This power source gives the mission an operating lifespan on Mars' surface of a full martian year (687 Earth days) or more, while also providing significantly greater mobility and operational flexibility, enhanced science payload capability, and exploration of a much larger range of latitudes and altitudes than was possible on previous missions to Mars.

Arriving at Mars in 2012, Mars Science Laboratory will serve as an entr?e to the next decade of Mars exploration. It represents a huge step in Mars surface science and exploration capability because it will:

  • demonstrate the ability to land a very large, heavy rover to the surface of Mars (which could be used for a future Mars Sample Return mission that would collect rocks and soils and send them back to Earth for laboratory analysis)
  • demonstrate the ability to land more precisely in a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) landing circle
  • demonstrate long-range mobility on the surface of the red planet (5-20 kilometers or about 3 to 12 miles) for the collection of more diverse samples and studies.

Key Dates
26 Nov 2011:  Launch
6 Aug 2012:  Mars Landing (5:32 a.m. UTC)
Status: On Mars
Fast Facts
MSL / Curiosity Facts Clara Ma (right), a 6th grader from Lenexa, Kan., suggested the name Curiousity for the rover.

The rover is almost the size of a small sport-utility vehicle. It is about 2.8 meters (9 feet long) and four times as heavy as NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

The first Mars rover, Sojourner, was about as big as a microwave oven.

According to Adam Steltzner (the lead mechanical engineer for entry, descent and landing) the mach gauge shown during the landing used Martian mach numbers. Mach 1 on Mars is approx. 240 m per second, whereas it's about 332 m per second on Earth.

It takes about 90 people to operate a Mars rover each day.
Science & Technology Features
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Bobak Ferdowsi Bobak Ferdowsi
My favorite moment has to be landing a SUV-sized rover on the surface of Mars. Read More...
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Last Updated: 19 Nov 2014