Mission News

Text Size

Kickoff for Phoenix Landing Blog
Brent Shockley Welcome to the kick-off entry for the Phoenix entry, descent and landing (EDL) blog from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. I'm Brent Shockley, the Information and Configuration Management Engineer for Phoenix at JPL. I've been working on Phoenix since December of 2004, when I came onto the project as a recent graduate fresh out of college. My job is essentially to serve as the information hub for the project, controlling documents, managing data of various sorts, processing engineering change requests and generally keeping everyone on the same page.

As you can imagine, the opportunity to work on a project that will send a spacecraft for the first time to Mars' frozen north has been a unique and exciting opportunity, not to mention a tremendous learning experience as I've watched Phoenix evolve from a concept to a real, working spacecraft. Phoenix was first selected as a mission in 2003, so this is an exciting time for me and everyone who's worked on Phoenix as we see nearly five years of hard work come to fruition. In less than a week, Phoenix will be touching down on the surface of Mars in the northern polar region to dig for water ice which it will analyze with a suite of advanced instruments.

engineer checks robotic arm of Phoenix Phoenix has a scoop on the end of its Robotic Arm that will gather shavings of frozen material.
Larger image
Although we don't land for another week, the cruise phase (the ten months it took to get to Mars after we launched in August of 2007) is a busy time, and the level of activity is building as landing day draws near and we make our final preparations. (You can watch a video of cruise stage here). Status meetings are currently taking place every morning and every evening to discuss the status of the spacecraft and review our final plans. This weekend in particular, teams worked around the clock as we performed the fifth and possibly final trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) on Saturday night to set the spacecraft on its final trajectory to a gentle landing in the northern polar region of Mars (at 68 degrees north latitude to be exact). On Earth, this would be equivalent to landing in the northern reaches of Canada. In the days to come the team will determine whether another, final trajectory correction maneuver is required next weekend, and they will also prepare the final parameters for upload to the spacecraft prior to entry, descent and landing. (You can watch a video about EDL here) .

This is an exciting time as we see five years of hard work come to a climax, but everyone involved also understands that landing a spacecraft on another planet is an extraordinarily complicated and thus risky endeavor. In fact, the last spacecraft to successfully land on Mars using retrorockets like Phoenix was the second Viking lander 32 years ago in 1976. With that in mind, teams spread across the country, and in fact the world, continue to work hard as they make final preparations to ensure a successful landing on the surface of Mars next weekend. Teams in the United States include those at Lockheed Martin in Denver, our science operations center in Tuscon, Arizona, and at JPL in Pasadena. In addition, teams at Deep Space Network stations located in Madrid, Spain; Goldstone, California; and Canberra, Australia, will play a critical role in our communication with the spacecraft.

Artist concept of Phoenix landing on Mars This is an artist's version of what Phoenix will look like as it lands on Mars.
›  Larger view
During EDL, data from the Phoenix spacecraft will be relayed to Earth through the Mars Odyssey orbiter. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter will also be monitoring EDL and collecting data, which will be played back later to Earth. We will also be listening for a signal from Phoenix using the 100-meter radio telescope at Green Bank, West Virginia. As you can see, landing Phoenix on Mars is a massive team effort that requires a great deal of coordination and attention to detail. Over the next week we'll hopefully offer some insight into those details as we post blog entries from various members of the team. On landing day I'll be providing frequent updates following the action at JPL and in mission control at JPL during landing, so be sure to check back often to see the latest on our approach to the red planet.

To learn more about the spacecraft and the mission, check out the following sites: