On August 5th, at 10:31 P.M. PT, the large nuclear powered rover named Curiosity will begin its treacherous descent down to the planet Mars. Over the course of seven minutes, a number of extremely advanced systems will kick in, in the hopes of slowing the rover down and gently depositing it into the surface of this foreign world. A key to this being successful is the descent radar, developed in part by Seymour Duncan’s own Wayne Rothermich. When not helping to develop pickups like our Blackouts, Wayne likes to challenge himself with coming up with out of this world technology. We recently talked with him about what those seven minutes will be like.
What’s the first thing that is going to happen as Curiosity begins its descent?
“The first thing that is going to happen when Curiosity enters the Martian atmosphere is that the heat shield will eliminate much of Curiosity’s enormous speed. The friction of the capsule going through the atmosphere slows it down. This process generates so much heat that pieces of the heat shield burn off. Then a very large parachute is deployed to help slow it down even more. The atmosphere on Mars is thinner than the atmosphere on Earth so even though Curiosity is still travelling at supersonic speeds they can use a parachute relatively early in the descent. When the landing radar senses an altitude of about one mile, the parachute is released and some retrorockets take over. When the radar senses that Curiosity is about 66 feet above the surface, the rover drops out of the bottom of the spacecraft and it is lowered down on tethers.”
“Curiosity is now descending with the rover hanging down. Once the rover is just above the ground, the tethers are released and the rover is on the surface. Once the rover is free, the retrorockets throttle up and the main craft flies away and crashes on the surface of Mars.”
When does the landing radar kick in?
“Plans changed over time but I believe it would start a few miles up because they needed to know when to let go of the parachute and when they are close enough to deploy the rover on the tether.”
Is the radar acoustic?
“It’s radio waves, it’s actually a rather high-frequency radar. It’s similar in frequency to some of the more modern police radars.”
Check out this video to see what the descent will be like: