On 6 August, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is set to deliver the Curiosity rover onto the Red Planet’s surface.
The landing in Gale Crater will mark the start of an ambitious exploration programme studying Mars’ habitability, climate and geology and collecting data for a future human mission to Mars.
During MSL’s critical entry, descent and landing phase, approximately 06:15-07:30 CEST, ESA’s Mars Express orbiter will perform a complex tracking operation.
The European spacecraft will be in an ideal position to record signals from the NASA lander to help scientists reconstruct the entry and landing profile to improve our understanding of the Red Planet’s atmosphere.
Confirmation of touchdown by NASA is set for 07:31 CEST.
ESA’s tracking and data recording by Mars Express will be a crucial back-up to NASA’s own tracking efforts.
The Agency’s ground network of 35 m-diameter deep-space antennas will also support the landing, standing by as ‘hot back-up’ to NASA’s own deep-space network.