Emily LakdawallaMay 27, 2008

Phoenix Sol 2 press conference, in a nutshell

Let's see if I can hit the high points of today's press conference before I start filling in all the details.

  • First, the bad news: there was some kind of anomaly on the UHF radio that Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter uses to communicate with Phoenix. As a result, Phoenix did not receive its morning uplink, containing the command sequence for sol 2. It has a backup sequence on board, which it is presumably executing, but if it had received its uplink, it would have unstowed its arm today, and now it's not going to. They are working the UHF problem. It does not affect the orbiter's ability to communicate with Earth, and there's no comm problem on Phoenix. It's just the orbiter-to-ground radio that's had a hiccup. And, of course, Phoenix can still complete its scheduled comm sessions through Odyssey.
  • All the rest of this is good news. Using the Doppler tracking data from Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, they have pinpointed the landing site of Phoenix: 68.218830N 234.250778E. (Using the IAU 2000 Aerocentric coordinate system. Thanks, Tim!)
  • What that means is that HiRISE was able to take pictures of the hardware sitting on the ground -- not only the lander, but its backshell and parachute and heat shield. Even better, the location was on-target enough that HiRISE was able to spot it with the very narrow, center color section of its detector, so we have the landing site in glorious color.
  • A southern view from Phoenix shows the backshell and parachute, 300 meters away. The sky is clear enough that a very low rise about 14 kilometers (9 miles) away is visible as what looks like a line of hills on the horizons.
  • Phoenix also got a good image of the digging site. There are very few rocks, and it looks like they can reach both the center of a polygon and a trough between two polygons, which is great news.
  • They've gotten the first data from the meteorological instrument, and the temperatures are going from lows of -80 to highs of -30 Celsius (that's -112 to -22 Fahrenheit), with pressures of 8 millibars.
  • They got a nice RGB color shot of the DVD containing signatures and Visions of Mars, which I posted here.
  • The microphone on the Descent Imager maybe possibly, might be able to be turned on, late in the mission after the mission success goals are accomplished.
  • They are looking at sols 9-11 for delivering the first soil samples to the chemical analysis instruments.

I have to go prepare for the chat now, but I'll elaborate on these things later.

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