Mars precision landing? Not until 2007.
While the U.S. has successfully landed a spacecraft on Mars and orbited several craft around the Red Planet, the first “precision landing” will not be attempted until a “Smart Lander” sets down in 2007, an expert in orbit determination and navigation told ISA 2001 attendees.
“We’ve landed on the planet, but we’ve never actually guided to the planet,” said Robert Bishop, a professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics for the Center for Space Research at the University of Texas at Austin.
The first precision landing attempt in 2007 will strive to hit a Martian site with an accuracy of 3–6 kilometers. In 2011, what Bishop classified as “third generation” precision landing, the U.S. plans to achieve pinpoint accuracy “within 10 meters, and that’s when you start about landing humans,” the navigation expert said.
A likely 2011 target, he speculated, would be landing in a crater where scientists hoped to find ice. Water traces could prove useful in determining whether life ever existed on Mars, where temperatures range from –220°F to a peak of +68°F.
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