Mars Science Laboratory Guided Entry at Mars, Artist's Concept
This artist's concept shows thrusters firing during the entry, descent and landing phase for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission to Mars.
Precision landing technologies help ensure the probability of a safe landing. Providing precision guided entry improved landing accuracy from a range of hundreds of kilometers to only 12 miles (20 kilometers) for the Mars Science Laboratory mission. This capability helps remove some of the uncertainties of landing hazards that might be present in larger landing ellipses (e.g., the probability of landing on steep slopes or especially rocky terrain that might be encountered within a larger region). It also paves the way for a future pinpoint landing capability required for future missions that depend on landing in exactly the spot desired (for science targets or for engineering needs such as avoiding landing hazards such as large rocks or compensating for last-minute winds).
Mars Science Laboratory was the first planetary mission to use precision landing techniques. For guided entry, it had an onboard computing ability to steer itself toward the pre-determined landing site.
Another new innovation is the ability to receive information throughout the entry, descent, and landing process.