The Phoenix Mars Lander, which has a Canadian-built weather station aboard, is looking ready to make its landing on Sunday, according to NASA.
Despite having nearly five million more kilometres to travel, the robotic lander was in fine condition, on target and predicted to have good landing weather, team leaders from the University of Arizona, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Lockheed Martin said at a briefing in Washington on Thursday.
"All systems are nominal and stable," said Ed Sedivy, Phoenix spacecraft program manager for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, which built the spacecraft. "We have plenty of propellant, the temperatures look good and the batteries are fully charged."
The robotic science lab will land in Mars' arctic and dig down into the ice-rich soil, where it will study the frozen water for evidence of carbon-containing chemicals. It will also monitor the planet's arctic -region weather from the surface from the first time.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter camera run showed the weather will be good on Sunday, with no significant dust storms around the landing site, said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith.
The spacecraft will approach Mars at a speed of about 20,000 kilometres an hour and make the difficult descent, referred to by NASA officials as "seven minutes of terror," at about 7:45 ET on Sunday. When it enters the atmosphere, it will use superheated friction with the atmosphere, a strong parachute and a set of retrorockets to make its three-legged standstill touchdown on the surface, NASA said.
U.S. scientists will be joined by their counterparts from Canada and Europe in running the mission robotically from a headquarters in Tucson, Ariz. Canada's contribution is a Meteorological Station, or Met, designed to monitor changes in water abundance, dust, temperature and other variables in the Martian atmosphere.
Of 11 previous attempts to land spacecraft on Mars, only five have succeeded.
The Canadian Space Agency and a team headed by York University — and including contributions from the University of Alberta, Dalhousie University, the Geological Survey of Canada and instrument-maker Optech and — will oversee the science operations of the station, which was built by Canadarm maker MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., also known as MDA, of Richmond, B.C.
The Phoenix was launched aboard a Delta II rocket in August 2007.