Mars Climate Sounder Watches Mars Weather to Prepare for Curiosity Landing
ExoMars 2016 Orbiter Will Feature Mars Climate Sounder Successor
What will the Martian atmosphere be like when the next Mars rover descends through it for landing in August of 2012?
Two weeks ago Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Climate Sounder (MCS) started a four-week campaign to support entry, descent, and landing phase for the next Mars rover, Mars Science Laboratory (or "Curiosity").
It is currently one Mars year before MSL's arrival season. Understanding the behavior of the Martian atmosphere during this season is of critical importance in planning for the rover's descent through the atmosphere to the Martian surface, so MCS is observing the martian atmosphere for MSL. This will provide the MSL engineering team and the Mars atmospheric modelers supporting them a set of observations constraining the expected climate at their landing season. It will also help define the range of possible weather conditions for landing day.
During the campaign, the MCS team has inaugurated a new observation mode with the instrument. In addition to looking in the forward direction relative to the MRO flight track, MCS is using its azimuth actuator to look to both sides. This provides views at additional local times to better understand how the weather changes during the range of times when MSL may arrive.
MCS normally observes the atmosphere at 03:30 and 15:30 local time (at the equator). The cross-track views add observations at approximately 2:15, 5:00, 14:15 and 17:00. The afternoon times cover the range of possible MSL landing times. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project is assisting MCS by insuring that images do not cause the orbiter to roll while MCS is observing near the potential landing sites.