[meteorite-list] Fostering Curiosity: Mars Express Relays Rocky Images
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2012 10:39:49 -0800 (PST)
Fostering Curiosity: Mars Express relays rocky images
European Space Agency
26 November 2012
For the first time, ESA's Mars orbiter has relayed scientific data from
NASA's Curiosity rover on the Red Planet's surface. The data included
detailed images of "Rocknest3" and were received by ESA's deep-space
antenna in Australia.
It was a small but significant step in interplanetary cooperation
between space agencies.
Early on the morning of 6 October, ESA's Mars Express looked down as it
orbited the planet, lining up its lander communication antenna to point
at Curiosity far below on the surface.
For 15 minutes, the NASA rover transmitted scientific data up to the ESA
satellite. A few hours later, Mars Express slewed to point its high-gain
antenna toward Earth and began downlinking the precious information to
the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, via the
Agency's 35 m-diameter antenna in New Norcia, Australia.
The data were immediately made available to NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in California for processing and analysis, proving again that
NASA's amazing new rover can talk with Europe's veteran Mars orbiter.
The information included a pair of tremendously interesting images
acquired on 4 October by Curiosity's ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager camera.
ChemCam comprises the camera together with a Laser-Induced Breakdown
Spectrometer, which fires a laser at targets and analyses the chemical
composition of the vaporised material.
The laser zaps areas smaller than 1 mm across on the surface of martian
rocks and soils, and then the spectrometer provides information on the
minerals and microstructures in the rocks.
Outstanding image quality
The first image (at top of article) was taken before a series of five
ChemCam laser blasts and the second image (at right) was taken after.
The image is centred on the fifth observation point.
"The quality of these images from ChemCam is outstanding, and the mosaic
image of the spectrometer analyses has been essential for scientific
interpretation of the data," says Sylvestre Maurice, Deputy Principal
Investigator for ChemCam at France's Research Institute in Astrophysics
and Planetology (IRAP).
"This combination of imaging and analysis has demonstrated its potential
for future missions."
ChemCam laser targets
A third image, relayed separately by NASA, indicates the locations of
the laser target points on Rocknest3, as seen by the RMI camera.
"Rocknest" is the area where Curiosity stopped for a month to perform
its first mobile laboratory analyses on soil scooped from a small sand
dune. Rocknest3 was a convenient nearby target where ChemCam made more
than 30 observations using 1500 laser shots.
A wide-angle context image was acquired by Curiosity's MastCam and shows
Rocknest3 as targeted by ChemCam. Rocknest3 is about 10 x 40 cm, or
roughly the size of a shoe box.
Fostering Curiosity - and others
ESA's Mars orbiter has also relayed data for NASA's other surface
missions - Phoenix, Spirit and Opportunity - since 2004, and it relayed
Curiosity's radio signal during its arrival at Mars last August.
During the Curiosity mission, Mars Express is set to provide additional
relay slots, while maintaining its own scientific observation programme,
under an ESA-NASA support agreement.
It can also rapidly provide relay services in case of unavailability of
NASA's own relay orbiter or if there is a problem on the rover itself.
"ESA-NASA cooperation at Mars is a continuing success, and comes after
both sides have worked diligently for a number of years to set technical
and engineering standards to enable sharing data between spacecraft,
networks and ground stations," says Mars Express Spacecraft Operations
Manager Michel Denis.
"Exploring Mars is a huge challenge, and space agencies are working to
boost cooperation and mutual support for current and upcoming missions.
It's the way of the future."
Received on Mon 26 Nov 2012 01:39:49 PM PST