Before Mars landing, a nail-biting ‘six and a half minutes of terror’

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This illustration made available by NASA in October 2016 shows shows InSight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP
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This illustration made available by NASA in March 2018 shows the twin Mars Cube One project (MarCO) spacecrafts flying over Mars with Earth and the sun in the distance. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)
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In this 2015 photo made available by NASA, a technician prepares the InSight spacecraft for thermal vacuum testing in its "cruise" configuration for its flight to Mars, simulating the conditions of outer space at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin via AP)
Updated 24 November 2018

Before Mars landing, a nail-biting ‘six and a half minutes of terror’

  • If successful, the entry, descent and landing of the Mars InSight will add another success to NASA’s record when it comes to sending spacecraft to Mars
  • Of 43 other international attempts to send orbiters, probes, landers or rovers to Mars, 25 have not made it

TAMPA, US: A spacecraft that cost nearly a billion dollars is on course to make a perilous landing Monday on Mars, if it can survive a high-speed approach and the scorching heat of entering the Red Planet’s atmosphere, a process NASA has nicknamed “six and a half minutes of terror.”
“There is very little room for things to go wrong,” said Rob Grover, head of the entry, descent and landing team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
If successful, the entry, descent and landing of the Mars InSight — designed to be the first mission to listen to the interior of another planet and reveal how rocky planets formed — will add another success to NASA’s record when it comes to sending spacecraft to Mars.
So far the United States is the only nation to have made it there, and only NASA’s unmanned Curiosity robotic rover is still tooling around on the surface.
But if it fails, it certainly won’t be the first.
Of 43 other international attempts to send orbiters, probes, landers or rovers to Mars, 25 have not made it. Either they crashed into the surface, missed their planned orbit, or disappeared after launch.
There will not be any live video streaming of Mars Insight’s approach on Monday, and signals will be transmitted back to Earth on an eight-minute delay.
Nor can mission managers intervene if anything goes awry. The entire landing sequence is all pre-programmed into the on-board flight computer.
Here’s what to expect:
• At 11:40 a.m. Pacific time (1940 GMT), the spacecraft separates from the cruise stage that carried it to Mars. A minute later, the spacecraft makes a turn to orient itself for atmospheric entry.
• At 1947 GMT the spacecraft is hurtling through space at a speed of 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kilometers per hour) as it begins to enter Mars’ atmosphere.
• Two minutes later, friction with the atmosphere raises the heat shield temperature to its peak of 2,700 Fahrenheit (1,500 Celsius). This intense heat could cause temporary dropouts in radio signals.
• At 1951 GMT, the parachutes deploy. Fifteen seconds later, the heat shield separates from the spacecraft. Ten seconds on, the lander’s three legs deploy to get ready for touchdown.
• At 1952 GMT, a radar activates to sense the distance to the ground.
• At 1953 GMT, the first radar signal is expected, followed 20 second later by the spacecraft’s separation from the back shell and parachute. Then, the descent engines, known as retrorockets, begin to fire. InSight’s speed slows drastically, from 17 mph to a constant five mph (27 kph to eight kph) for its soft landing.
• Touchdown is expected at 1954 GMT.
• The first “beep” from the spacecraft’s X-band radio — indicating whether InSight survived the landing — is scheduled for 2001 GMT.
• The first image from the surface of Mars is expected at 2004 GMT. However, it’s possible this image may not arrive until Tuesday.
• The orbital pattern of the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, flying overhead, means NASA won’t know until 0135 GMT on Tuesday if InSight’s solar arrays have deployed or not. This step is crucial because the quake-sensor is powered by the Sun for its one-year mission.


Philippines warns of ‘unfriendly’ greeting for uninvited warships

Updated 20 August 2019

Philippines warns of ‘unfriendly’ greeting for uninvited warships

  • There have been multiple sightings of Chinese warships in Philippine territorial waters
  • The Philippines has lodged several diplomatic protests in recent weeks

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned of “unfriendly” treatment for foreign ships traveling in the country’s territorial waters without permission, in a rare swipe at China’s use of warships just a few miles off Manila’s coast.
Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, on Tuesday made the demand for transparency amid frustration by the Philippine military at multiple sightings this year of Chinese warships moving within the country’s 12 mile territorial sea, at various locations in the archipelago.
“All foreign vessels passing our territorial waters must notify and get clearance from the proper government authority well in advance of the actual passage,” Panelo said.
“Either we get a compliance in a friendly manner or we enforce it in an unfriendly manner,” he added.
Panelo did not refer to China by name, nor elaborate on what that enforcement might entail.
The Philippines has lodged several diplomatic protests in recent weeks over the activities of Chinese coast guard, navy and paramilitary fishing vessels in Philippine-controlled areas of the South China Sea and in its territorial waters.
The armed forces has released images and cited witness sightings between February and early August of Chinese warships off Palawan and Tawi Tawi islands, a pattern that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana last week described as an “irritant.”
Duterte is facing heat at home for what critics say is his passive approach to Chinese provocations in exchange for a business relationship with Beijing that is not working out well for him, with promised investments slow in coming.
Though surveys consistently show Duterte enjoying a level of domestic approval never seen at this point in a presidency, the same polls show growing disdain for China over its conduct in the South China Sea, and reservations among some Filipinos over a massive influx of Chinese online gaming workers under Duterte.
Duterte will visit China from Aug. 28 to Sept. 2, his spokesman said. He has promised to discuss a South China Sea 2016 international arbitration victory over China with counterpart Xi Jinping.
Duterte has until now chosen not to push that ruling, which invalidated China’s claim of sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. Beijing did not participate in the court proceedings and rejected the ruling.
The South China Sea is a vital route for ships carrying more than $3 trillion in trade every year. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims to parts of it.