NASA Phoenix Mars Lander Puts Arm and Other Tools to Work May 29, 2008
TUCSON, Ariz. - NASA's Mars lander is returning more detailed
images from the Martian surface and is now preparing its instruments
for science operations.
Phoenix transmitted a 360-degree panorama of its frigid Martian world,
freed its nearly 8-foot robotic arm, tested a laser instrument for
studying dust and clouds, and transmitted its second weather report
on Wednesday evening.
"We've imaged the entire landing site, all 360 degrees of it. We see
it all," said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith, University
of Arizona, Tucson. "You can see the lander in a fish-eye view that
goes all the way out to the entire horizon "We are now making plans
for where to dig first, and what we'll save for later."
Commands were communicated to Phoenix to rotate the robotic arm's wrist
to unlatch its launch lock, raise the forearm and move it upright to
release the elbow restraint.
"We're pleased that we successfully unstowed the robotic arm. In fact,
this is the first time we have moved the arm in about a year," said
Matthew Robinson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
The arm deployment brings the Phoenix mission to a significant milestone.
"We have achieved all of our engineering characterization prerequisites,
with all the critical deployments behind us," said JPL's Barry Goldstein,
Phoenix project manager. "We're now at a phase of the mission where we're
characterizing the science payload instruments. That's a very important step for us."
After a health check that tests the arm at a range of warmer and colder
temperatures, the titanium and aluminum arm will soon be tasked with its
first assignment: to use its camera to look under the spacecraft to assess
the terrain and underside of the lander.
The robotic arm will later trench into the icy layers of northern polar Mars
and deliver samples to instruments that will analyze what this part of Mars
is made of, what its water is like, and whether it is or has ever been a
possible habitat for life.
Another milestone for the mission included the activation of the laser instrument
called light detection and ranging instrument, or lidar.
"The Canadians are walking on moonbeams. It's a huge achievement for us,"
said Jim Whiteway Canadian Science lead from York University, Toronto. The
lidar is a critical component of Phoenix's weather station, provided by the
Canadian Space Agency. The instrument is designed to detect dust, clouds and
fog by emitting rapid pulses of green laser-like light into the atmosphere. The
light bounces off particles and is reflected back to a telescope.
"One of the main challenges we faced was to deliver the lidar from the test lab
in Ottawa, Canada, to Mars while maintaining its alignment within one one-hundredth
of a degree," said Whiteway. "That's like aiming a laser pointer at a baseball at
a distance from home plate to the center field wall, holding that aim steady after
launch for a year in space, then landing," he added.
Lidar data shows dust aloft to a height of 3.5 kilometers (2 miles). The weather
at the Phoenix landing site on the second day following landing was sunny with
moderate dust, with a high of minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit)
and a low of minus 80 (minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit).
The Phoenix mission is led by Smith at the University of Arizona with project
management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, Denver. International
contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel,
Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute,
Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. For more about Phoenix,
visit: http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix .
Media contacts: Guy Webster 818-354-5011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington
Sara Hammond 520-626-1974
University of Arizona, Tucson