Paris, May 21 : ESA's (European Space Agency's) Mars Express mission control team have announced that NASA's Phoenix Mars lander is ready for descent and landing onto the surface of the Red Planet on May 26, 2008.
The control team has already completed major preparations for supporting the entry, descent and landing (EDL) phase of the Phoenix.
On 25 May, Mars Express will point towards Phoenix's planned entry trajectory and record signals broadcast from the lander as it plunges through the Martian atmosphere.
The recorded data will serve as a useful and potentially crucial back-up to compare Phoenix's planned and actual descent profiles.
The Mars Express team will monitor the event from the Dedicated Control Room at ESOC (ESA's Space Operations Centre) at Darmstadt, Germany.
"We have tested a specially designed slew for our spacecraft, and scheduled a series of data downloads immediately after Phoenix's landing; NASA will receive our recorded data about one hour later," said Michel Denis, Spacecraft Operations Manager at ESOC.
Mission controllers will use the MELACOM (Mars Express Lander Communications) system to point towards Phoenix during EDL.
Mars Express will perform a high-speed slew as MELACOM tracks Phoenix, rotating about one axis at a speed some two to three times faster than normal; this action has already been tested and confirmed.
"Our MELACOM data will enable NASA to confirm the Phoenix lander's descent characteristics, including speed and acceleration through the Mars atmosphere," said Peter Schmitz, Deputy Spacecraft Operations Manager and project lead for Mars Express Phoenix support activities.
MELACOM data will be downloaded to Earth via NASA's Deep Space terminals DSS-15 and DSS-25.
After a 15-minute, 20-second light-speed travel time, ESOC will receive the data transmitted from Mars Express. Recorded data will subsequently be downloaded two more times to ensure no loss of packets.
The ESA spacecraft will also fly over Phoenix's intended landing zone on 26 May, and will again monitor signals transmitted up from the surface. In the following week, Mars Express will monitor Phoenix using MELACOM 14 more times; at least one of these will be used to demonstrate and confirm that the ESA spacecraft can be used as a data relay station for NASA, receiving data from the surface and transmitting test commands to the lander.