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The Curiosity rover will be delivered by a 'skycrane'
The Curiosity rover will be delivered by a 'skycrane', as pictured in this artist's impression.
The entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phase of the MSL mission will begin when the spacecraft reaches the Martian atmosphere, about 81 miles (131km) above the surface of the Gale crater landing area.
The spacecraft will then steady its rate of descent with up to eight throttle-controllable rocket engines.
The rover is connected to the MSL spacecraft during the descent stage by three nylon tethers and by an 'umbilical' cable providing a power and communication connection. Once the rover has landed, the cable and tethers will be separated and the spacecraft flown off.
Image credit: Alex Lutkus
The Curiosity rover will carry laboratory instruments to analyse samples of rocks, soil and atmosphere. The 900kg machine is too heavy to make a gas-bag assisted landing, which is why it will be lowered by skycrane.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Geometry of tracking
This diagram shows the geometry of how Mars Express will track signals from the MSL during its descent.
Image credit: Alex Lutkus/NASA/JPL-Caltech