Category Archives: Mars Rovers

Opportunity Signing Out

The last image from the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. The partial image marks the end of a remarkable mission unless there is some miracle.

The image is from the PanCam on the rover. Thanks to NASA and the rest (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU ) for sharing.

NASA: Taken on June 10, 2018 (the 5,111th Martian day, or sol, of the mission) this “noisy”, incomplete image was the last data NASA’s Opportunity rover sent back from Perseverance Valley on Mars. The partial, full-frame image from the Panoramic Camera (Pancam) was sent up to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter around 9:45 a.m. PDT (12:45 p.m. EDT) to relay back to Earth as an intense dust storm darkened the skies around the solar-powered rover. The image was received on Earth at around 10:05 a.m. PDT (1:05 p.m. EDT).

Opportunity took this image with the left eye of the Pancam, with its solar filter pointed at the Sun. But since the dust storm blotted out the Sun, the image is dark. The white speckles are noise from the camera. All Pancam images have noise in them, but the darkness makes it more apparent. The transmission stopped before the full image was transmitted, leaving the bottom of the image incomplete, represented here as black pixels.

While this partial full-frame image was the last that Opportunity transmitted, it was not actually the last set of images from Opportunity. This image was taken at around 9:30 a.m. PDT (12:30 p.m. EDT) on June 10, 2018. Another set of images (PIA22930) was taken about three minutes later. The thumbnail versions of the last images taken were transmitted, but the rover lost contact before transmitting the full-frame versions.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about Opportunity, visit https://www.nasa.gov/rovers and https://mars.nasa.gov/mer

Where’s Opportunity?

There is no “selfie” from the rover Opportunity, we have not heard from it for six months, a little more than that actually on 10 June 2018.  The possibility of the rover still being functional looks pretty bleak but there is hope, not a lot but some; to that end the rover team is trying to communicate by sending commands to the rover. The engineers will be using Goldstone’s 111.5-foot (34-meter) Beam Waveguide tracks a spacecraft as it comes into view. Hope it works! Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA – Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have begun transmitting a new set of commands to the Opportunity rover in an attempt to compel the 15-year-old Martian explorer to contact Earth. The new commands, which will be beamed to the rover during the next several weeks, address low-likelihood events that could have occurred aboard Opportunity, preventing it from transmitting.

The rover’s last communication with Earth was received June 10, 2018, as a planet-wide dust storm blanketed the solar-powered rover’s location on Mars.

“We have and will continue to use multiple techniques in our attempts to contact the rover,” said John Callas, project manager for Opportunity at JPL. “These new command strategies are in addition to the ‘sweep and beep’ commands we have been transmitting up to the rover since September.” With “sweep and beep,” instead of just listening for Opportunity, the project sends commands to the rover to respond back with a beep.

The new transmission strategies are expected to go on for several weeks. They address three possible scenarios: that the rover’s primary X-band radio — which Opportunity uses to communicate with Earth — has failed; that both its primary and secondary X-band radios have failed; or that the rover’s internal clock, which provides a timeframe for its computer brain, is offset. A series of unlikely events would need to have transpired for any one of these faults to occur. The potential remedies being beamed up to address these unlikely events include a command for the rover to switch to its backup X-band radio and commands directed to reset the clock and respond via UHF.

“Over the past seven months we have attempted to contact Opportunity over 600 times,” said Callas. “While we have not heard back from the rover and the probability that we ever will is decreasing each day, we plan to continue to pursue every logical solution that could put us back in touch.”

Time is of the essence for the Opportunity team. The “dust-clearing season” — the time of year on Mars when increased winds could clear the rover’s solar panels of dust that might be preventing it from charging its batteries — is drawing to a close. Meanwhile, Mars is heading into southern winter, which brings with it extremely low temperatures that are likely to cause irreparable harm to an unpowered rover’s batteries, internal wiring and/or computer systems.

If either these additional transmission strategies or “sweep and beep” generates a response from the rover, engineers could attempt a recovery. If Opportunity does not respond, the project team would again consult with the Mars Program Office at JPL and NASA Headquarters to determine the path forward.

 

Curiosity’s Selfie

It is the Mars Rover Curiosity’s turn for a selfie which comes to us from NASA, JPL-Caltech, and MSSS.
There is a lot going on in the picture if you click it get a larger version. Curiosity is getting pretty dusty, but not quite as much as I thought.

By the way, welcome back NASA staff!!

NASA – NASA’s Curiosity rover has taken its last selfie on Vera Rubin Ridge and descended toward a clay region of Mount Sharp. The twisting ridge on Mars has been the rover’s home for more than a year, providing scientists with new samples — and new questions — to puzzle over.

On Dec. 15, Curiosity drilled its 19th sample at a location on the ridge called Rock Hall. On Jan. 15, the spacecraft used its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the end of its robotic arm to take a series of 57 pictures, which were stitched together into this selfie. The “Rock Hall” drill hole is visible to the lower left of the rover; the scene is dustier than usual at this time of year due to a regional dust storm.

Curiosity has been exploring the ridge since September of 2017. It’s now headed into the “clay-bearing unit,” which sits in a trough just south of the ridge. Clay minerals in this unit may hold more clues about the ancient lakes that helped form the lower levels on Mount Sharp.

15 Years on Mars

The image above is the view from Opportunity on a place called Perseverance Valley located on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, looking toward the northwest.

The image was taken on 03 June 2017 (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ).  Clicking the image should give you a larger version.

15 years ago today Opportunity landed on the Red Planet.

From NASA:

NASA’s Opportunity rover begins its 16th year on the surface of Mars today. The rover landed in a region of the Red Planet called Meridiani Planum on Jan. 24, 2004, sending its first signal back to Earth from the surface at 9:05 p.m. PST (Jan. 25, 2004, at 12:05 a.m. EST). The golf-cart-sized rover was designed to travel 1,100 yards (1,006 meters) and operate on the Red Planet for 90 Martian days (sols). It has traveled over 28 miles (45 kilometers) and logged its 5,000th Martian day (or sol) back in February of 2018.

“Fifteen years on the surface of Mars is testament not only to a magnificent machine of exploration but the dedicated and talented team behind it that has allowed us to expand our discovery space of the Red Planet,” said John Callas, project manager for Opportunity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “However, this anniversary cannot help but be a little bittersweet as at present we don’t know the rover’s status. We are doing everything in our power to communicate with Opportunity, but as time goes on, the probability of a successful contact with the rover continues to diminish.”

Opportunity’s last communication with Earth was received June 10, 2018, as a planet-wide dust storm blanketed the solar-powered rover’s location on the western rim of Perseverance Valley, eventually blocking out so much sunlight that the rover could no longer charge its batteries. Although the storm eventually abated and the skies over Perseverance cleared, the rover has not communicated with Earth since then. However, Opportunity’s mission continues, in a phase where mission engineers at JPL are sending commands to as well as listening for signals from the rover. If engineers hear from the rover, they could attempt a recovery.

Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2003. Spirit landed on Mars in 2004, and its mission ended in 2011.

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