26 June 2011

Spectacular New MSL Animation!

Posted by Ryan Anderson

You guys. Drop everything and take a look at this spectacular 11 minute animation of Curiosity landing on Mars!


If you would prefer a shorter, narrated version, then NASA has that covered too:


These new videos use a very accurate 3D rendering of the rover, so that means that finally, there are also new still images of MSL! I don’t have to keep using that same outdated picture over and over when I post!

Also, at the 5th MSL landing site workshop, I got to hang out with Doug Ellison who was involved in making these videos and I picked up a couple of pieces of trivia that I thought would be worth sharing. First of all, you might notice that the “flame” at MSL enters the martian atmosphere is blue, not orange. This was a deliberate choice: ionized CO2 glows blue, so this is a more accurate depiction of what it would really look like as MSL plunged through the upper atmosphere on Mars.

Also, you probably notices that as the capsule enters the atmosphere, it tosses a bunch of bricks overboard. These are weights used to adjust the center of mass of the capsule. First several weights are discarded to make the capsule slightly off center. This affects its tilt as it enters the atmosphere, which in turn generates lift and allows the capsule to steer to its destination. Then once that stage of entry is over, more weights are tossed overboard to level things out again. It blew my mind that, in a business where mass is the most precious commodity of all, we were sending these large bricks (if my memory serves, they are 22kg each) all the way to Mars only to toss them overboard! But it’s for a good cause: the ability to steer during re-entry is a big part of why the landing ellipse for MSL is nearly circular, while the ellipse for previous missionswas very elongated.