When NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission lands on the red planet, communication antennas across Australia will be listening.

"Well Done Curiosity. Australia was Listening"
Mars Science Laboratory - Entry, Descent and Landing
Landing Time: Monday, 6 August 2012 - 3:31pm AEST

On Monday, 6 August, antenna dishes across Australia received signals from NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover 'Curiosity' as it landed on the red planet.

NASA mission scientists refer to landing on Mars as the 'seven minutes of terror'.

It's never easy to land on Mars, so the more ears/eyes you have pointing skyward, the better!

Australia's Vital Role in NASA's Mars Mission
Giant antenna dishes across Australia were uniquely positioned to receive signals from NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover 'Curiosity' as it landed on the surface of the red planet, Monday, 6th August.

Listening to signals received through antennas in Canberra, Parkes and New Norcia (near Perth), mission scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) were able to countdown through a period they call the 'seven minutes of terror' as the spacecraft plummeted towards the surface at over 20,000km/hr.

The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC), which is managed on NASA's behalf by the CSIRO, was the 'prime' tracking station for landing activities. CDSCC received a series distinct tones directly from the spacecraft as various steps in the landing process were activated, such as; parachute deployment, heatshield separation, and the all important tone that confirmed that the rover had landed safely on the surface.

At the same time, CSIRO's Parkes Radio Telescope was used as a giant ear to receive and record the tones which were transmitted as a UHF radio signal, through the first few minutes of the spacecraft's entry into the Martian atmosphere. The data was stored for later playback to the mission team.

Another smaller antenna managed by the European Space Agency (ESA) at New Norcia, near Perth provided extra redundancy, also receiving signals from the spacecraft, as well as tones recorded through ESA's Mars Express satellite in Mars' orbit.

Landing Day - August 6, 2012
The exact landing time for the spacecraft was determined by several factors including descent time on the parachute, martian winds, and powered-flight time for the spacecraft nearing landing. Confirmation of the touchdown signal was received on Earth just after 3.31pm AEST.

As the spacecraft performed entry, descent and landing on Mars, all events were pre-programmed. The landing could not be controlled from Earth due to the time it takes for a radio signal travelling at the speed of light to reach Mars and return to Earth. So the spacecraft had to do everything on its own.

The entire process from entry into the atmosphere to touchdown took seven minutes. All the mission scientists could do was watch and wait. They call this time the 'seven minutes of terror'. (video)

About the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
Managed by the CSIRO, the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) is one of three tracking stations in NASA's Deep Space Network. Separated by approximately 120 degrees around the world, the stations in Canberra, Australia, Madrid, Spain and Goldstone, California, provide two-way radio contact with dozens of spacecraft across the Solar System and beyond.

About the Mars Science Laboratory mission
NASA's latest mission to the red planet is the Mars Science Laboratory rover called 'Curiosity'. The 950kg vehicle will Gale Crater in the southern hemisphere of Mars. Curiosity is designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment suitable to support small microbial life forms.

After a 567 million kilometre, 8.5 month journey to Mars, Curiosity landed in an ellipse just 20kms by 7kms at the base of a 5km high 'mountain' in the centre of the crater.

MSL Website | MSL Fact Sheet (pdf) | MSL Landing Press Kit (5.46mb pdf)
About the MIssion | Instruments | MSL Gallery | MSL mission trailer (Youtube)

Media interested in additional information or interview requests should contact:
Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex images/interviews: Glen Nagle
Mars Science Laboratory mission/scientists: NASA/JPL - Guy Webster or Veronica McGregor
General Enquiries: Glen Nagle - Ph: 02 6201 7838 (bh)


Canberra, ACT
Three antennas at the CSIRO-NASA tracking station in Canberra were the 'prime' communication point for entry, decent and landing.

Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43):
The 70-metre dish was the prime antenna for uplink and downlink communications direct with the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft and via NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) satellite in Mars' orbit.

Deep Space Station 34 (DSS34):
The 34-metre dish provided downlink communications with MSL, as well as relay through NASA's Mars Odyssey (ODY) satellite in Mars' orbit.

Deep Space Station 45 (DSS45):
The 34-metre dish provided backup for MSL downlink, as well as support relay through NASA's MRO and ODY.

Parkes, NSW
The Parkes Radio Telescope, managed by the CSIRO supported NASA's MSL during entry and descent, recording tones received in UHF. These will be examined post-landing.

Deep Space Station 49 (DSS49):
For the purposes of the support, the 64-metre Parkes dish was designated as Deep Space Station 49.

New Norica, WA
The antenna managed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and located at New Norcia (north of Perth) was used to receive and record data from MSL during entry, descent and landing.

Deep Space Station 32 (DSS32):
For the purposes of this support, the 34-metre dish was designated as Deep Space Station 32.

Gale Crater
Gale Crater was named in 1991 for Australian astronomer and banker Walter F. Gale (1865–1945), who discovered several comets and drew maps of Mars and Jupiter.

Coincidentally, the mound inside Gale, when viewed from orbit, resembles the shape of Australia.
Other CDSCC Stories
Nov 2011 - Tweetup Party
April 2012 -
NASA Boss Visits CDSCC
Aug 2012 -
MSL Curiosity Landing
Jan 2013 -
DSS35 Webcams
April 2013 -
DSS43 40th Anniversary
Aug 2013 -
2013 Space Open Day
Sept 2013 -
DSS35 Construction
Nov 2013 - DSS36 Construction

Webmaster: Glen Nagle
Public Relations Office: Glen Nagle / Leanne George