6 August 2012 – QinetiQ’s Transceiver, currently in orbit around the Mars on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express, is set to monitor NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) through entry, descent and landing on to the surface of the planet on Monday (6 August).
Mars Express Lander Communications subsystem MELACOM will then support the rover during its operational life on the surface of Mars.
QinetiQ have completed modifications to the transceiver, launched in 2003, to allow it to record transmissions from MSL during the critical seven minutes as it approaches the Martian surface, which will be sent back to Earth to allow scientists to analyse the performance of the system.
After the landing phase has completed successfully, MELACOM will support the mission on Mars by sending commands to the rover vehicle and relaying science data and pictures back to Earth, alongside the transceivers on NASA’s satellites Odyssey and MRO. During this phase of the mission, recent software enhancements will increase the volume of data that can be transmitted to MSL on the Martian surface.
Sanjay Razdan, Managing Director New Technologies at QinetiQ said: “This is a landmark achievement for the QinetiQ Space Team, and sets a solid base for future innovations. We are also currently developing the next generation of the UHF transceiver, which will be used as the communications system on the Mars landers for ESA’s upcoming ExoMars missions.”
He added: “This is not the first time that QinetiQ’s transceiver has been used to support a NASA Martian mission. In 2008 the transceiver was used to monitor the entry, descent and landing of the Phoenix Lander, and has acted as one of the relays for NASA’s Opportunity Rover, which is still active on the surface of Mars.”
The transceiver has been thoroughly tested to ensure compatibility with NASA’s assets. Both an interoperability test on Earth and a Mars-based rehearsal using Opportunity have been performed successfully ahead of the arrival of MSL to the Red Planet.