Category Archives: Mars Rovers

Curiosity Update

A week or so ago we had a post about how the Curiosity team was going to “switch brains” on the Mars rover. NASA addressed the switch in a press release. The rover is again on the move – good news.

The image (thanks NASA/JPL-Caltech) is from 15 June 2018, before the sandstorm.

NASA : NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover drove about 197 feet (60 meters) over the weekend to a site called Lake Orcadie, pushing its total odometry to over 12 miles (20 kilometers). This was Curiosity’s longest drive since experiencing a memory anomaly on Sept. 15. The rover switched to a spare computer, called the Side-A computer, on Oct. 3.

After more than two weeks of science operations, and now with this latest drive, the mission is back to business. The team plans to drill a new target later this week.

Curiosity’s engineering team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory continues to diagnose the anomaly on the Side-B computer.

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, this week commanded the agency’s Curiosity rover to switch to its second computer. The switch will enable engineers to do a detailed diagnosis of a technical issue that has prevented the rover’s active computer from storing science and some key engineering data since Sept. 15.

Like many NASA spacecraft, Curiosity was designed with two, redundant computers — in this case, referred to as a Side-A and a Side-B computer — so that it can continue operations if one experiences a glitch. After reviewing several options, JPL engineers recommended that the rover switch from Side B to Side A, the computer the rover used initially after landing.

The rover continues to send limited engineering data stored in short-term memory when it connects to a relay orbiter. It is otherwise healthy and receiving commands. But whatever is preventing Curiosity from storing science data in long-term memory is also preventing the storage of the rover’s event records, a journal of all its actions that engineers need in order to make a diagnosis. The computer swap will allow data and event records to be stored on the Side-A computer.

Side A experienced hardware and software issues over five years ago on sol 200 of the mission, leaving the rover uncommandable and running down its battery. At that time, the team successfully switched to Side B. Engineers have since diagnosed and quarantined the part of Side A’s memory that was affected so that computer is again available to support the mission.

“At this point, we’re confident we’ll be getting back to full operations, but it’s too early to say how soon,” said Steven Lee of JPL, Curiosity’s deputy project manager. “We are operating on Side A starting today, but it could take us time to fully understand the root cause of the issue and devise workarounds for the memory on Side B.

“We spent the last week checking out Side A and preparing it for the swap,” Lee said. “It’s certainly possible to run the mission on the Side-A computer if we really need to. But our plan is to switch back to Side B as soon as we can fix the problem to utilize its larger memory size.”

Curious Tales of Switching Brains

The rover Curiosity is having issues with saving data to the main computer so they are going to “switch brains” that is, they are going to activate the redundant computer. While this switch has been done before on the rover it is still a very challenging process, especially considering the rover is nearly 107.5 million km / 66.8 million miles away and the complexity of the issues they are troubleshooting. It just shows what a capable and adaptable group the rover team is. Anyway. . .

The image (thanks NASA/JPL-Caltech) is from 15 June 2018, before the sandstorm.

NASA: Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, this week commanded the agency’s Curiosity rover to switch to its second computer. The switch will enable engineers to do a detailed diagnosis of a technical issue that has prevented the rover’s active computer from storing science and some key engineering data since Sept. 15.

Like many NASA spacecraft, Curiosity was designed with two, redundant computers — in this case, referred to as a Side-A and a Side-B computer — so that it can continue operations if one experiences a glitch. After reviewing several options, JPL engineers recommended that the rover switch from Side B to Side A, the computer the rover used initially after landing.

The rover continues to send limited engineering data stored in short-term memory when it connects to a relay orbiter. It is otherwise healthy and receiving commands. But whatever is preventing Curiosity from storing science data in long-term memory is also preventing the storage of the rover’s event records, a journal of all its actions that engineers need in order to make a diagnosis. The computer swap will allow data and event records to be stored on the Side-A computer.

Side A experienced hardware and software issues over five years ago on sol 200 of the mission, leaving the rover uncommandable and running down its battery. At that time, the team successfully switched to Side B. Engineers have since diagnosed and quarantined the part of Side A’s memory that was affected so that computer is again available to support the mission.

“At this point, we’re confident we’ll be getting back to full operations, but it’s too early to say how soon,” said Steven Lee of JPL, Curiosity’s deputy project manager. “We are operating on Side A starting today, but it could take us time to fully understand the root cause of the issue and devise workarounds for the memory on Side B.

“We spent the last week checking out Side A and preparing it for the swap,” Lee said. “It’s certainly possible to run the mission on the Side-A computer if we really need to. But our plan is to switch back to Side B as soon as we can fix the problem to utilize its larger memory size.”

Where to Land the Mars2020 Rover

This should be the week we find out where the Mars2020 rover will land when it gets to Mars. Not a secret, the final decision has not been made, more about that in a second. Have a look at this artists concept (thanks NASA) – NOW THAT’S A ROVER!

NASA: Hundreds of scientists and Mars-exploration enthusiasts will convene in a hotel ballroom just north of Los Angeles later this week to present, discuss and deliberate the future landing site for NASA’s next Red Planet rover – Mars 2020. The three-day workshop is the fourth and final in a series designed to ensure NASA receives the broadest range of data and opinion from the scientific community before the agency chooses where to send the new rover.

The Mars 2020 mission is tasked with not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life. The landing site for Mars 2020 is of great interest to the planetary community because, among the rover’s new medley of science gear for surface exploration, it carries a sample system that will collect rock and soil samples and set them aside in a “cache” on the surface of Mars. A future mission could potentially return these samples to Earth. The next Mars landing, after Mars 2020, could very well be a vehicle that would retrieve these Mars 2020 samples.

“The Mars 2020 landing site could set the stage for Mars exploration for the next decade,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “I’m looking forward to the spirited debate and critical input from the science and engineering community. Whichever landing site is ultimately chosen, it may hold the very first batch of Mars soil that humans touch.”

The workshop begins with an opening address by the lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, Michael Meyer. After project status, engineering constraints, and site-assessment criteria are discussed come the presentations. Fair warning: Expect plenty of technical jargon as terms like biosignatures, geochemical conditions, impact deformation, biogenetic potential, olivine lithologies, and serpentinization and its astrobiological potential roll off presenters’ tongues.

“We have been doing these workshops in support of 2020 landing site selection since 2014,” said Matt Golombek, cochair of the Mars Landing Site Steering Committee from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “At our first workshop, we started with about 30 candidate landing sites, and after additional orbital imaging and a second landing site workshop, we had a recommendation of eight sites to move forward for further evaluation. There were so many great locations to choose from, the whittling-down process was tough. This time around, with four finalists, it promises to be even more difficult. Each site has its own intriguing science potential and knowledgeable advocates.”

Champions for four landing options will take their turn at the podium, presenting and defending their favorite parcel on the Red Planet. It is one more site than was expected after the completion of the third workshop, in 2017, where three locations on Mars were recommended for consideration – Columbia Hills, Jezero Crater and Northeast Syrtis.

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The View from Vera Rubin Ridge

This is great! Click play and move around using the circle thing with the arrows on the upper left as the video.

Original caption: After snagging a new rock sample on August 9, 2018 (Sol 2137), NASA’s Curiosity rover surveyed its surroundings on Mars, producing a 360-degree panorama of its current location on Vera Rubin Ridge. The scene is presented with a color adjustment that approximates white balancing, to resemble how the rocks and sand would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth. Two versions are included here: one with scale bars, and one without.

The panorama includes umber skies, darkened by a fading global dust storm. It also includes a rare view by the Mast Camera of the rover itself, revealing a thin layer of dust on Curiosity’s deck. In the foreground is the rover’s most recent drill target, named “Stoer” after a town in Scotland near where important discoveries about early life on Earth were made in lakebed sediments.

More information about Curiosity is online at http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/.

Selfie In an Epic Dust Storm

The rover Curiosity took this “selfie” in the midst of an epic dust storm. Despite some of the reporting on the storm, it is nothing new, certainly not “apocalyptic”. Such storms may not be common but they are not rare.

Nothing has been heard from the MER Opportunity; this is not unexpected and does not necessarily mean the little rover is done for. That said, I would suspect the power levels on the rover are minimal at best. We will have to wait for the storm to end before we know the fate of Opportunity for sure.

Original caption from NASA: A self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity rover taken on Sol 2082 (June 15, 2018). A Martian dust storm has reduced sunlight and visibility at the rover’s location in Gale Crater.

Self-portraits are created using images taken by Curiosity’s Mars Hands Lens Imager (MAHLI). MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Martian Dust Storm

The planet Mars is becoming shrouded in dust. I mentioned the other day the rover Curiosity seemed to be in pretty good shape as far as dust coverage goes or at least did not have as much dust coverage as I thought it would.

The situation for Curiosity may change as a dust storm becomes prevalent both in storm density and duration. The rover Opportunity (indicated with the blue dot in the center of the image) seems to be obscured now and power levels could be impacted, we’ll have to wait and see.

Typically the southern summer warms the environment and the dust and sends the particles high into the mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere. As the particles rise in the atmosphere they in turn create more wind and so on, a feedback loop. Exactly how this works is not known – yet. It could be the dust particles absorb enough heat from the Sun to remain boyent or it could be the seasonal variation of methane plays a part; or it could be something completely different and unrelated. Time will tell.

The current storm was detected on 01 June 2018 and is still going on and could continue for weeks or months. That seems like a long time but on Mars it happens, maybe not often, but it a well observed phenomenon. The image shown was taken on 06 June 2018 courtesy of Malin Space Science Systems. The map was produced by the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, which Malin Space Science Systems produced and operates.

Drilling on Mars

Curiosity is back to drilling (see earlier video).

Here’s a nice image from Curiosity thanks to: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Not as much dust build up as I expected.

Here’s the original caption:
The drill bit of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover over one of the sample inlets on the rover’s deck. The inlets lead to Curiosity’s onboard laboratories. This image was taken on Sol 2068 by the rover’s Mast Camera (Mastcam).

Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates the Mastcam. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover.

Mount Sharp

Clay on Mars is pretty exciting, if we ever do a sample return or put a human up there, this is he place. Curiosity is a great start!

NASA — This mosaic taken by NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover looks uphill at Mount Sharp, which Curiosity has been climbing. Spanning the center of the image is an area with clay-bearing rocks that scientists are eager to explore; it could shed additional light on the role of water in creating Mount Sharp. The mosaic was assembled from dozens of images taken by Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam). It was taken on Sol 1931 back in January.

Mount Sharp stands in the middle of Gale Crater, which is 96 miles (154 kilometers) in diameter. This mound, which Curiosity has been climbing since 2014, likely formed in the presence of water at various points of time in Mars ancient history. That makes it an ideal place to study how water influenced the habitability of Mars billions of years ago.

The scene has been white-balanced so the colors of the rock materials resemble how they would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth.

Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates the Mastcam. NASA s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project s Curiosity rover.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS