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MARS ROVER CURIOSITY LANDING - full colour panoramic pictures of the martian landscape

As most of us already know, the Mars rover Curiosity successfully landed in Gale Crater, Mars on August 6, 05:17:57 .3 UTC (or Coordinated Universal Time). Launched from Cape Canaveral on November 16 last year, Curiosity took almost ten months to reach Mars. 

The Curiosity mission is NASA's first astrobiology mission since the Viking probes of the 1970's. The rover costs $2.5 billion and is the most complex interplanetary rover ever built. Weighing over 900 kg, the Curiosity is packed with state-of-the-art scientific equipment and a generator that draws energy from nuclear power called a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. This power source, in contrast to the expected solar panels, will provide more power to the rover and avoids the problem of Martian dust blocking the panels from the sun.

Main Goals

Curiosity's main scientific goals in its 23 month long mission (668 Martian sols or Martian days) are (wiki):

  • determine mineralogical composition of the crater surface
  • attempt to detect chemical building blocks of life
  • interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils
  • assess the long timescale Martian atmospheric evolution processes
  • determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide
  • characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation
The Descent
EventTime of Event Occurrence at Mars (PDT)Time Event Occurrence Received on Earth (PDT)
Atmospheric Entry10:10:45.7 PM10:24:33.8 PM
Parachute Deploy10:15:04.9 PM10:28:53.0 PM
Heat Shield Separation10:15:24.6 PM10:29:12.7 PM
Rover Separation (from Descent Stage)10:17:38.6 PM10:31:26.7 PM
Touchdown10:17:57.3 PM10:31:45.4 PM
From the time of Curiosity reaching the outer edges of the Martian atmosphere to its landing took 7 minutes and has been aptly dubbed as the "7 minutes of terror" by NASA mission control (link)
As Curiosity entered the Martian atmosphere, it was travelling at 24 times the speed of sound and pulling up to 11 g's. With such a heavy load dropping down at such an immense speed, the descent system employs the world's largest supersonic parachute. Several rockets augment the deceleration of the rover in its final stages before touchdown. 

The Landing

Curiosity's first colour image of the Martian landscape (link)
After a 350-million-mile journey, Curiosity landed only 1.5 miles off the target area, a very impressive feat in comparison to previous Mars landings. This accuracy is also paramount to the mission success as the chosen landing site had an 18 000-foot mountain, called Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp, only 7 miles to the south. Aeolis Mons is the principle target for Curiosity's 2-year period of exploration. NASA scientists hope that the sedimentary deposits that are exposed on the mountain sides will provide a detailed geological history of Mars as well as providing clues or evidence of the historical presence of water or lifeforms. 

So Far...

Curiosity has spent the first four Martian days (sol) on Mars checking its systems to make sure no damage was sustained during its descent, performing minute science operations, and taking pictures of its surroundings. All these activities were suspended in the beginning of the fifth sol (Friday night, California time) as NASA scientists prepare to remotely install new computer software uploaded to the Rover while it was en route to Mars. This new software will allow NASA to safely drive the Rover on Mars. The previous software handled the complex tasks of atmospheric entry, descent, and landing. 

It will be a week and bit before Curiosity actually starts moving on the Martian surface as its myriad of systems will all need to be checked. 

Although it is planned that Curiosity's expected period of "life" will be up to 2 years, it is likely that the mission will go on for much longer. Opportunity, a previous Mars rover that landed in 2004, was planned to only run for 3 months but is still working as of today.

F-35 Lightning II Photo Gallery

Two F-35's in formation (link)
F-35 on display (link)
F-35 taking off vertically (link)
F-35 front view (link)
F-35 flying towards an aircraft carrier (link)

MODERN ATTACK AIRCRAFT RESEMBLES WWII FIGHTERS - A-29 Super Tucano, a counter insurgency powerhouse

Designed and built by Embraer Defense and Security, the EMB-314 Super Tucano (also named ALX and A-29) is a versatile turboprop aircraft aimed mainly for light attack, aerial support, and reconnaissance roles in low threat environments; attributes that are perfect for counter insurgency operations. Don't be deceived by its WWII-esque fighter aircraft airframe as the Super Tucano incorporates 4th-gen avionics and weapons systems to deliver precision guided munitions. Because of its low cost and high maneuverability (stemming from its light weight and low speed), the EMB-314 is also an ideal training aircraft. 

Super Tucano has been very successful and is currently in service with many developing countries (Brazil, Dominican Republic, Burkina Faso, Ecuador, and Chile) where insurgency is a large problem. Several other countries have also ordered  EMB-314's, which, surprisingly, also included the United States. The Super Tucano won a USAF competition for a Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft, beating the AT-6 from Hawker Beechcraft.

The Super Tucano is based off the EMB-312 Tucano trainer aircraft used by the Brazilian Air Force. It was developed due to a rising need for a light attack aircraft to keep Brazil's borders secure. The Super Tucano also met the requirements of the air force's ALX project for a new trainer aircraft. 

The Super Tucano was planned to be equipped with the more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68C engines. With power came more weight in this case, so the fuselage of the original Tucano was extended fore and aft of the cockpit by 1.37-m total to restore the centre of gravity. The airframe was also strengthened, the landing gear reinforced, cockpit pressurization was introduced, and the nose was stretched to house the larger engine. Several prototypes were built and tested and in 1995, the Brazilian government granted Embraer $ 50 million to develop the Super Tucano for the ALX project. The initial flight of the production-configured Super Tucano happened on June 2, 1999.

Besides alterations to the airframe and overall structure of the baseline Tucano, the Super Tucano also had:
  • Kevlar armour protection
  • a .50 calibre machine gun mount
  • 5 hard-points on the wings (giving it a capacity to carry ordnances from cannon pods to air-to-air missiles)
  • a new Night Vision compatible cockpit
  • HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick) controls
  • Numerous new avionics systems including missile approach warning receiver systems (MAWS) and radar warning receivers (RWR).
Since its introduction in 2003, the Super Tucano has seen a large amount of military action, including Brazil's Operation Ágata 1,2, and 3. The operations involved rigorous military action over the borders of Brazil to rid them of illegal activities such as drug trafficking and non-permitted mining/logging. The Super Tucanos were also extensively used by the Columbian Air Force in its ongoing campaign against the rebel FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) guerilla forces.

Specifications (wiki)

General characteristics
  • Crew: One pilot on single seat version, one pilot plus one navigator/student on double seat version
  • Payload: 1,550 kg (3,420 lb)
  • Length: 11.42 m (37 ft 6 in)
  • Wingspan: 11.14 m (36 ft 7 in)
  • Height: 3.9 m (12 ft 9.5 in)
  • Wing area: 19.4 m² (209 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 3,200 kg (7,055 lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 5,400 kg (11,905 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68C turboprop, 1,600 hp (1,193 kW)
  • Maximum speed: 590 km/h (319 knots, 367 mph)
  • Cruise speed: 520 km/h (281 knots, 323 mph)
  • Stall speed: 148 km/h (80 knots, 92 mph
  • g-limits: +7/-3.5 g)
  • Range: 720 nmi (827 mi, 1,330 km)
  • Combat radius: 550 km (300 nmi, 342 mi) (hi-lo-hi profile, 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) of external stores)
  • Ferry range: 1,541 nmi (1,774 mi, 2,855 km) 
  • Endurance: 8hrs 40mins
  • Service ceiling: 10,668 m (35,000 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 24 m/s (79 ft/s)