SA helps NASA explore Mars


The SA National Space Agency (SANSA) will this month assist US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to launch a rover on Mars.

The SANSA directorate, at Hartebeesthoek, has been selected as the service provider in this tracking of NASA’s latest space expedition.

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The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft will be launched on an Atlas V/541 launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in Florida. Support will be required from the SANSA Space operations Hartebeesthoek Telemetry Station during the launch, says the agency, ITWeb reports.

SANSA will monitor the main event of the launch, which is the separation of the MSL from the Atlas V launch vehicle, as this will occur within perfect view of the station for multiple launch opportunities during the launch period.

The MSL is a NASA mission aimed at landing and operating a rover, named Curiosity, on the surface of Mars.

The lab is scheduled to launch between 25 November and 18 December and to land on Mars at Gale Crater between 6 and 20 August 2012.
“It will try to perform the first-ever precision landing on Mars. The Curiosity rover will help assess Mars’ habitability; that is, whether Mars is, or ever was an environment able to support microbial life. It will also analyse samples scooped up from the soil and drilled powders from rocks,” says SANSA.

Curiosity will be expected to operate for at least one Martian years (668 Martian sols/686 Earth days) since it will explore with greater range than any previous Mars rover.

MSL is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Programme, a long-term effort at robotic exploration of Mars. The total cost of the project is about $2.3 billion.
“It is a privilege to be a part of this space mission and this gives testament to the technological expertise that is available in SA to support such large-scale investment,” says contract manager TT&C International at SANSA Space Operations Tiaan Strydom.

The agency says space science and technology is one of the five great challenges in SA’s 10-year Innovation Plan.

SANSA was launched on 9 December 2010. Its aim is to converge and optimise resources and maximise the benefits of space services and applications to society.