AE Alumni Share in Curiosity Development, Celebration

2012-08-22

Two AE at Illinois alumni who played roles in developing NASA’s momentous mission of sending the rover, Curiosity, to Mars are rightfully taking pride in the feat they have helped accomplish.

Two images Curiosity acquired August 8 on Mars are exactly what Sklyanskiy and his colleagues have been testing for the past year in the 'Mars Yard,' the JPL facility that mimics the geological environment on Mars. (Photos provided by Evgeniy Sklyanskiy)
Two images Curiosity acquired August 8 on Mars are exactly what Sklyanskiy and his colleagues have been testing for the past year in the 'Mars Yard,' the JPL facility that mimics the geological environment on Mars. (Photos provided by Evgeniy Sklyanskiy)

As part of a nine-month mission and after having traveled 350 million miles from Earth, Curiosity on August 6 executed a near-perfect landing on Mars, amazing a nation and earning kudos from President Barack Obama. Lynn E. (Craig) McGrew, BS 00, at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and Evgeniy Sklyanskiy, BS 01, MS 04, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, were among the many engineers and scientists who helped make the mission possible.

Said Craig, “My role on the Mars Science Laboratory mission is as an Entry Guidance engineer on the Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) team.

“This is the first ever time NASA has utilized a close-loop control system to target a landing point on Mars. I worked on simulating, optimizing, and testing the reference trajectory that the on-board flight software would use to control its path through the Martian atmosphere. Using lift, drag and altitude rate, the spacecraft was able to more precisely hone its flight and thus achieve the most accurate Mars landing to date.

“This guidance algorithm, which was utilized during the Apollo moon landings, proved extremely robust to a variety of conditions, such as high winds, dust storms and other stress conditions. As demonstrated during the spectacular landing on August 6, 2012, the system performed flawlessly and achieved its intended landing target to within 2 kilometers accuracy.”

Craig has been stationed at Johnson Space Center as part of the Flight Dynamics branch since 2008, and also worked trajectory and mission design for the Mars Exploration Rovers and Mars Phoenix lander missions from 2002 through 2008.

Sklyanskiy was part of the Surface Guidance Navigation and Control (GN&C) team.

“Our main objective was to test the Gyrocompass (IMU) and the GN&C logic/software functionality of the two pairs of Navigation cameras mounted on the rover mast,” he said. “In addition, we were responsible for the High Gain Antenna (HGA) GN&C algorithms antenna located on the main deck of the rover.”

The system Sklyanskiy and engineers at JPL developed is the most complex GN&C has ever built. The onboard computer located on Curiosity was responsible for the trajectory correction maneuvers during the Earth-Mars cruise phase, Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) and rover surface operation phase.