Mars Science Laboratory


August 19, 2022

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL for short) is a NASA flagship program mission that studies Mars for its current and past suitability as a biosphere. For this purpose, a largely autonomous rover named Curiosity (English for 'curiosity') was set down on the surface, which is equipped with ten instruments for studying rock, atmosphere and radiation. In addition to a large number of different spectrographs, cameras and meteorological instruments are also used to analyze them, which send the measurement data to earth for evaluation. With a mass of 900 kg and the size of a compact small car, Curiosity was the heaviest man-made object on the surface of Mars until the landing of Perseverance in February 2021, replacing the Viking daughter probes with almost 600 kg each. The technology was developed on the basis of experience with the two Mars Exploration Rovers and has significantly more power in all areas. In addition, some innovations have been incorporated, especially in the area of ​​its landing system (soft, targeted touchdown instead of imprecise airbag impact landing). In addition, Curiosity received radionuclide batteries for its power supply instead of weather-dependent solar cells. On November 26, 2011, the probe was launched aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station; the landing on Mars was confirmed on August 6, 2012. Shortly after landing, Curiosity began sending the first images to Earth and has been operating for 3567 sols.


The mission was first mentioned in a 2003 document called "New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy" published by the National Academies, citing a cost in the range of $325 million to $650 million. In April 2004, NASA issued a call for the scientific community to submit ideas and concepts for the Mars Science Laboratory's scientific instruments. At the end of the year, Aerojet tested an old reserve engine from the Viking program to obtain initial data for the design of an improved descent-stage version. Shortly thereafter, eight concepts were selected from the responses to the spring call for integration and further development. In May 2006, the first workshop to determine the landing location for the rover took place. The project then passed the Preliminary Design Review, which resulted in the release of $1.63 billion for development, and in June 2007, the final Critical Design Review was passed. In November 2008, development and integration of most systems was almost complete completed and the testing phase began. Shortly thereafter, however, it became clear that the original start date in October 2009 could no longer be met, which is why it was postponed to the end of 2011. The reason for this were technical problems that could not be solved quickly enough for all the planned tests to be completed in time. The actuators were particularly affected, most of which had to be redesigned. This delay added another $400 million to the mission's cost to a total of $2.2 billion, with that number growing to $2.5 billion by launch. Finally, on May 27, 2009, the rover's official name became the Mission announced: Curiosity. A public naming competition had previously been announced, which sixth grader Clara Ma won with this name suggestion and a short essay on its meaning. On June 22, 2011, after final testing, the Mars Science Laboratory left the JPL California facility and was flown on a United States Air Force C-17 to Kennedy Space Center for final preparations for launch and Integrat