The team that landed Curiosity on Mars takes home a trophy.
- By Paul Hoversten
- AirSpaceMag.com, March 22, 2013
(Page 3 of 3)
We knew going in that we had some points where the design was not all that we would have hoped it could have been. We were left holding some concentrations of risk that we would have preferred not to have. For example, we were measuring only two components of our velocity in the Sky Crane maneuver with our radar. We wanted to measure three, but because of late antenna development challenges, we could not get the right view angles to do that. So we said, ‘Well, we understand the local gravity of Mars fairly well at the landing site, so we’ll just estimate the third component.’ As it turned out, we didn’t understand the gravity well enough. There was a gravity anomaly at Gale Crater, which is probably not surprising because there’s a huge crater there. And that meant that we had an error in our estimates and we landed much more slowly than we’d anticipated. If that error had been flipped around, we might have landed faster than anticipated and we might have hurt the rover.
That’s an example of something the team that is going to be flying 2020 is going to look long and hard at, whether to put on a third antenna. For the lay person, the Sky Crane will look identical, but there will be some subtle changes the team will make to strengthen its reliability.