The next great Mars rover, Curiosity, is set to launch on Saturday, November 26, at 15:02 UTC. Here's how I plan to be watching, and a timeline of the main events to watch for on launch day. Unlike most of the other launches I've watched recently, this one has a pretty long window, from 15:02 to 16:45. This means they have time during the countdown to delay by 10 or 20 or 100 minutes to resolve any unexpected issues. That, of course, will throw off my timeline. If "T zero" does not wind up being 15:02, or if launch gets pushed to another day, I will update the timeline with the new launch time.
I'll be watching NASA TV either on my TV or through JPL's Ustream feed. Commentary begins at 12:30 UT, which is 4:30 in the morning my time, so I hope you'll forgive me if I don't show up right at the beginning! Depending on what time it actually launches, I may or may not get a post up about it until the afternoon, but I will certainly be Tweeting the launch events as they occur.
In the meantime, don't expect any further posts from me this week unless there is really exciting news about Phobos-Grunt. It's the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. and I will be busy baking and entertaining family. See you bright and early Saturday morning!
The place to go for all the facts and details about any launch is the press kit, a packet of information prepared for the media, about the mission. As with most missions there are two press kits, one from NASA (PDF, 5.2 MB) (about the mission) and one from the United Launch Alliance (PDF, 2.6 MB) (about the Atlas V rocket that'll send Curiosity to Mars). This timeline mostly draws from the ULA press kit.
|Time (s)||Time (PST)||Time (UTC)||Event
||Core booster ignition
||Solid rocket booster ignition
Liftoff occurs when the rocket is generating more thrust than its own weight.
||Begin pitch/yaw/roll maneuver
After flying vertically for about 90 meters, the rocket turns to the right direction.
||Maximum dynamic pressure
||Solid rocket booster jettison
The four solid rocket boosters, now spent, will fall away in pairs.
||Payload fairing jettison
||Begin 4.6 G-limiting
The rocket is throttled back to maintain the acceleration at a steady 4.6 G's.
||Atlas Booster Engine Cutoff (BECO)
The spacecraft will be at an altitude of about 158 kilometers.
||Atlas Booster/Centaur separation
||Centaur first Main Engine start (MES1)
The second stage will burn for 412 seconds (about 7 minutes), placing Curiosity into a parking orbit with a perigee of 165 and an apogee of 324 kilometers, but the spacecraft will not complete even one orbit.
||Centaur first Main Engine cutoff (MECO1)
The exact coast period depends upon the launch time; it could be anywhere from 13 to 31 minutes.
||Centaur second Main Engine Start (MES2)
This time may be incorrect by up to 10 minutes in either direction, depending on the launch time. The second stage's second firing will send Curiosity onto an interplanetary trajectory.
||Centaur second Main Engine Cutoff (MECO2)
After the engine cuts off, the spacecraft turns and then spins up, rotating at 2.5 revs per minute.
This time may be incorrect by up to 20 minutes depending on the launch time. After separation, the Centaur upper stage will perform an "avoidance maneuver" to make sure it will not hit either Curiosity or Mars.
||X-band transmitter turned on
Only after spacecraft separation can Curiosity communicate directly with Earth. It will not start transmitting data for another five minutes. First communications are likely to be received in Canberra, but may possibly be received earlier in Mauritius.
Emily and Curiosity
That's me with Curiosity! I really, really, really, really, really, really hope everything goes well on launch day....
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