PASADENA, Calif., April 13 (UPI) — NASA engineers say they have started testing a radar system that will be used during the next landing on Mars of a U.S spacecraft.
The tests, recently conducted near Lancaster, Calif., involved a helicopter carrying an engineering test model of the landing radar for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory. It tested the system on various descent paths at different angles and from different heights.
The Mars Science Laboratory mission, managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is in its assembly and testing phase, in advance of a planned launch late next year. It will deliver a rover named Curiosity to Mars during the summer 2012.
“During the final stage of the spacecraft’s arrival at Mars in 2012, a rocket-powered descent stage will lower the rover on a tether directly to the ground,” NASA said in a statement. “This rover is too big for the airbag-cushioned landing method used by NASA’s Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997 and Mars Exploration Rover landings in 2004.
“At Mars, a radar on the descent stage will track the spacecraft’s decreasing distance from the surface. Additional helicopter-flown testing of the mission’s radar system will include checks of whether the suspended rover might confuse the radar about the speed of descent toward the ground.”
Wolfe Air Aviation, of Pasadena, Calif., is providing the helicopter and flight services for the testing by a team of JPL engineers.
Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.