45 days prior to the entering phase of the spacecraft, engineers are starting their intensive preparations for the approach phase wherein both the 70-meter and 34-meter antennas are brought up to track the coverage of the phase. As the Curiosity Rover approaches Mars at about 13,000 mph, the estimated time from entering the atmosphere to landing would be 7 minutes. The spacecraft has more than 10x the mass of what Opportunity or Spirit Rovers have brought, which makes scientists track the landing carefully as the spacecraft enters Mars.
Since the atmosphere in Mars is 100 times thinner than of the Earth, it is estimated that about 1,000 mph the heat shield would reach 1,600°. The speed will achieve its peak deceleration as the spacecraft passes through the planet’s atmosphere.
Entering the Planet’s Atmosphere
As the Curiosity Rover enters the planet, the parachute will be deployed slowing it down at a speed of 900mph. The heat shield will separate at around 370 mph when the capsule would slow down at Mach 0.6 and at around 9km in altitude. The parachute in the Curiosity is larger than of the other capsules delivered in other planets.
Power and Descent
The power will descend for about 70 mph and it will be powered down to Mars’ surface slowly by reverse rockets. This will also stabilize the landing of the vehicle and would protect it from any horizontal winds. As the rover would descend, the camera placed on the rover’s bottom would should at least 5 frames every second within a span of 2 minutes prior to landing.
Landing and Touchdown
As the Sky Crane lowers at a speed of around 2 mph, 8 rocket thrusters will slow its speed after it is dropped from its aeroshell. This will ensure that the Curiosity Rover will land wheels down on the surface of the planet. As the descent stage is done, the rover will be suspended at about 25 feet while lowering it down slowly.
Touchdown will be at 0 mph, the system of the Sky Crane will slow down as the rover would touch the ground. It is necessary that the landing will be confirmed within 1.5 seconds of waiting since crane would fire pyros or small devices that would explode for the activating of the cutters for the bridle. This process should be done immediately as the descent stage or crane would fly away from the place where the rover has landed.
Ready to Explore
As soon as the cords of the crane to the Curiosity Rover have been cut down, it will have a crash landing after it flies away from the rover. After all the approach and landing phases have been done, the rover is now ready for roaming around Mars and getting as much information and images as possible.
The entire process would take about 7 minutes as estimated by the engineers of Curiosity, which makes every phase necessary to be achieved at once. Everything that may affect the landing is prevented since the engineers are fully aware of the consequences that may happen as the rover is attaining its touchdown. As every phase is achieved the landing of Curiosity is sure to be successful.