Tag Archives: opportunity

Mars rover update: November 14, 2016

Curiosity

Curiosity looking south, Sol 1516

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

Since my last update on November 3rd, Curiosity has reached the region of sand dunes and has started to pick its way through it. The panorama above was created using images from the rover’s left navigation camera, taken on Sol 1516. It looks south, with Mount Sharp rising on the left.

That same day Curiosity also used its mast camera to zoom in on the canyon gap in the center of the panorama. The first image below is the wider mast camera shot, with the an outline showing the even closer zoom-in below that.
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Mars rover update: November 3, 2016

Curiosity

Post updated: See last paragraph in Curiosity section.

Curiosity location 1507

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

After spending almost a month on the flats south of Murray Buttes, during which the rover drilled another hole, in the past week Curiosity has finally resumed its journey south toward the slopes of Mount Sharp and the sand dune area that it must cross to get there.

Unfortunately, NASA has decided to change how it shows the rover’s progress, and these changes seem to me to be a clever and careful effort to make it more difficult for the public to make educated guesses about where the rover might be heading in the very near future. The image to the right is the cropped inset showing the rover’s recent travels that is part of a new a larger image that puts this inset in the context of the rover’s entire journey. This has replaced the wider orbital mosaic that they used to provide (see for example my September 27, 2016 rover update) that gave a very good view of the entire terrain surrounding the rover from which a reasonable estimate of its future path could be guessed.
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Did Opportunity see Schiaparelli?

Opportunity image of Schiaparelli?

Because Schiaparelli was aimed at a landing site somewhat close to the Mars rover Opportunity, the science team aimed the rover’s panoramic camera at the sky yesterday, taking fourteen pictures in the hope of capturing the lander as it came down. Of those fourteen images, the image on the right, reduced in resolution, is the only one that shows that bright streak in the upper right.

close-up of streak

Though this streak might be an artifact, I do not think so. To the left is a close-up from the full resolution image, showing the streak in detail. That doesn’t look like an artifact. It still could be a meteorite, but I also think that doubtful. The coincidence of a meteorite flashing across the sky at the same exact moment Opportunity is looking to photograph Schiaparelli’s landing is too unlikely.

If this is Schiaparelli, expect a press release from NASA in the next few days.

Mars rover update

Emily Lakdawalla at Sky & Telescope today provides an update of the two Mars rovers, but takes a different approach than I have. While I have been focusing on tracking where the rovers are going and what they are doing, she gives a very nice overview of each rovers’ condition, what instruments continue to work and what have failed.

I myself have not done a new rover update since October 6 for several reasons. First and foremost, neither rover has gone anywhere since my last report. Opportunity is still sitting on Spirit Mound, studying the rocks there. Curiosity is still in the flats south of Murray Buttes, preparing to drill another hole.

Secondly, there was a delay this past weekend in downloading data, especially from Curiosity. I strongly suspect that the delay was simply because the Deep Space Network was being used to help with communications between Europe and its ExoMars probes, now set to arrive at Mars tomorrow. When the lander Schiaparelli separated from the orbiter on Sunday they had had some initial communications problems, and it is likely that though ESA was using its own deep space network, they also enlisted ours to help.

Thirdly, I have been very tied up trying to finish my cave project monograph. This is done now, so I finally have more time to work on Behind the Black.

Opportunity to head into Endeavour Crater

The Opportunity science team has decided to next take the rover into the floor of Endeavour Crater.

The gully chosen as the next major destination slices west-to-east through the rim about half a mile (less than a kilometer) south of the rover’s current location. It is about as long as two football fields. “We are confident this is a fluid-carved gully, and that water was involved,” said Opportunity Principal Investigator Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. “Fluid-carved gullies on Mars have been seen from orbit since the 1970s, but none had been examined up close on the surface before. One of the three main objectives of our new mission extension is to investigate this gully. We hope to learn whether the fluid was a debris flow, with lots of rubble lubricated by water, or a flow with mostly water and less other material.”

The team intends to drive Opportunity down the full length of the gully, onto the crater floor. The second goal of the extended mission is to compare rocks inside Endeavour Crater to the dominant type of rock Opportunity examined on the plains it explored before reaching Endeavour.

If it is the gully I think, it is the slope visible in the panorama I created for this rover update two weeks ago. The science team has named the mound they have been studying Spirit Mound. The ridge line, visible in the panorama and to the south of the rover in the overhead view provided in the same September 27 rover update, has been dubbed Wharton Ridge. It is also possible that the entrance gully is the gully to the south of Wharton Ridge. Based on the information NASA has provided, I am not sure.

Either way, I had guessed that they would work their way south to Wharton Ridge along the edge of the crater rim, and then retreat away from the crater floor to do more study of the interior crater rim. It appears they have decided that the rover can safely descend the slope to enter the crater floor itself, and they aren’t going to wait any longer to do it.

Mars rover update: October 6, 2016

Curiosity

Post updated. See last paragraph of Curiosity section.

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

Curiosity looking west, Sol 1475

Having moved south from Murray Buttes, the Curiosity science team has decided [see Sol 1473] that they will veer the rover to the southwest a bit, partly to check out some interesting features but also I think as part of a long term plan to find the best route through an area of sand dunes that blocks their path to the more interesting landscape at the base of Mount Sharp. The panorama above, created by me from images taken by the rover’s mast camera on Sol 1475, was taken to scope out this route, and is indicated below the fold in the overview released earlier this week by the rover science team and annotated by me to indicate the direction of this panorama as well as the rover’s present location. (Be sure to click on the panorama above to see it at full resolution.)
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Mars rover update: Sept 27, 2016

Curiosity

Curiosity traverse map, Sol 1471

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see this post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

In the past week Curiosity finally left Murray Buttes and began moving south towards Mount Sharp, and, for at least one day, I thought tracking the rover’s movements might become easier. Early in the week the science team published an updated overhead traverse map that not only showed the topographical elevation contour lines for the surrounding terrain, but also included a blue line roughly indicating the rover’s future route. For reasons I do not understand, however, they only did this for one day, and then went back to the un-annotated traverse maps they had been using previously. I have therefore revised the most recent traverse map, shown on the right, to include these contour lines as well as the planned future route. The contour lines are hard to read on the full image, but below the fold on the right is a zoomed in view of Curiosity’s position as it left Murray Buttes, which shows the rover’s elevation at about 4376 meters below the peak of Mount Sharp. This means the rover has gained about 1,150 meters, or about 3,775 feet, since its landing, but only 50 meters or about 150 feet since March of this year. It is still not on the mountain but in the low foothills at its base.
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Mars rover update: September 20, 2016

Opportunity comes first this time because it actually is more interesting.

Opportunity

For the overall context of Opportunity’s travels at Endeavour Crater, see this post, Opportunity’s future travels on Mars.

Having several choices on where to head, the Opportunity science team this week chose took what looks like the most daring route, heading almost due east towards the floor of Endeavour Crater. In fact, a review of their route and the images that the rover continues to take suggests that the panorama I created last week looked almost due east, not to the southeast as I had guessed. I have amended the most recent overhead traverse image, cropped and reduced below, to show what I now think that panorama was showing.
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Mars rover update

It is time for an update on the journeys of Curiosity and Opportunity on Mars!

First, Curiosity. Though the science team has not yet updated the rover’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter traverse map showing its travels, it appears from Curiosity’s most recent navigation camera images that the rover has moved passed the first butte that had been ahead and directly to the south in the traverse map shown in the last image of my post here. The image below the fold, cropped and reduced to show here, looks ahead to the second butte and the gap to the south. Beyond Mt Sharp can be seen rising up on the right, with the upcoming ground open and relatively smooth. The only issue will be the steepness of that terrain. Based on my previous overall look at the rover’s journey, I suspect they will contour to the left.
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Opportunity’s steep downhill path

An update on Opportunity: The panorama I have created below from two images taken by its navigation camera and transmitted from Opportunity today, shows the steepness of the slope in Lewis and Clark Gap down which engineers are thinking of sending Opportunity. It appears also that Opportunity has moved closer to the gap since my post on Friday outlining the rover’s future travels.

I have not followed Opportunity’s entire journey on Mars close enough to say whether this will be the steepest downhill slope the rover has ever attempted. If not I suspect it is close to the steepest. I also suspect that they are still unsure whether they are going to attempt it, and are creeping slowly towards it to assess the situation.

Lewis and Clark Gap within Endeavour Crater's rim

Opportunity’s future travels on Mars

Opportunity's future path

Approaching the gap

Having spent a lot of time recently analyzing the travels of Curiosity in Gale Crater and in the foothills to Mount Sharp, I decided this week that I also needed to do the same with Opportunity at Endeavour Crater.

The image above is a panorama that I have assembled from images taken by Opportunity’s navigation camera on Sol 4477 (sometime last week). To the right is a panorama assembled from images taken by the navigation camera several days later, on Sol 4481, after Opportunity had moved closer to the gap shown in the first picture above. The inset in the image above shows the location of the image on the right. The X shows Opportunity’s approximate position.

Below the fold is the most recent orbital mosiac showing Opportunity’s recent travels near Endearvour Crater and in Marathon Valley, cropped and annotated by me to indicate the areas seen by the two panoramas above. The red dot shows Opportunity’s present position.
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Opportunity moves on from Marathon Valley

After almost a year exploring Marathon Valley, an east-west cut through the western rim of Endeavour Crater, the Mars rover Opportunity is about to head out and south, following the outside of the crater’s rim.

For a rover that was only supposed to last 90 days, Opportunity has now traveled more than 26.5 miles in its 12 years of operation on the Martian surface.

Close encounter with a dust devil

dust devil near Opportunity

Cool image time! On March 31st, as the Mars rover Opportunity took an image of the tracks it left behind as it attempted to climb the steepest slope it has yet attempted, it unexpectedly captured a nearby dust devil. The image to the right is a cropped version of that image

Be sure and take a look at the original image. Not only is the dust devil clearly imaged, showing it to be intense enough that it casts a shadow, the image gives a very good sense of the steepness of that slope. It is not surprising that Opportunity had problems getting up that hill, and eventually had to retreat because it couldn’t get to its target rock formation.

Opportunity takes a spin

In attempting several times this past week to climb the steepest ever tried by a rover on Mars and failing, Opportunity has moved on to a new less challenging target.

The rover’s tilt hit 32 degrees on March 10 while Opportunity was making its closest approach to an intended target near the crest of “Knudsen Ridge.”

Engineers anticipated that Opportunity’s six aluminum wheels would slip quite a bit during the uphill push, so they commanded many more wheel rotations than would usually be needed to travel the intended distance. Results from the drive were received in the next relayed radio report from the rover: The wheels did turn enough to have carried the rover about 66 feet (20 meters) if there had been no slippage, but slippage was so great the vehicle progressed only about 3.5 inches (9 centimeters). This was the third attempt to reach the target and came up a few inches short.

The rover team reached a tough decision to skip that target and move on.

Having operated thirteen years longer than originally planned, the science and engineering team that operates the Mars rover Opportunity are increasingly willing to try more risky things. For example, the valley the rover is in, called Marathon Valley, is actually an east-west slice through the rim of 14-mile-wide Endeavour Crater. Traveling into that slice towards the crater’s interior is a far riskier trip than ever dreamed of by Opportunity’s designs more than a decade ago.

Opportunity marathons on

As the rover prepares for winter, scientists hope to continue Opportunity’s survey of Marathon Valley, an east-west cut through the western rim of Endeavour Crater.

Overall the rover`s condition appears better than should be expected, considering it is now more than a decade past its expected expiration date and has been having memory problems for the past year.

Watch Opportunity’s full journey on Mars, in 8 minutes

The science team for the Mars rover Opportunity have released an 8-minute movie compiled from the rover’s hazard-avoidance cameras. Enjoy!

One comment: There is a long stretch of territory south of Albuquerque, New Mexico called Jornada de Muerto, which means “Journey of Death” in English. It gets its name from its lack of water or life. This video makes that stretch of land look like a water park, strongly highlighting the utter barrenness of the Martian surface.

Opportunity enters Marathon Valley

Opportunity at the mouth of Marathon Valley

For the John Batchelor Show tonight John and I taped this afternoon a two-segment interview with geologist Bill Farrand, who is part of the science team for Opportunity. The image above shows Opportunity’s recent travels as well as its next target. (Click on the image for the full resolution image.) Assuming the rover’s memory problems don’t get worse and Congress decides to reverse the decision of the Obama administration to end all funding for Opportunity, the scientists hope to take the rover east into Marathon Valley, a very distinct break in the rim of Endeavour Crater.

Whether they will continue east into the crater itself Bill could not say. Some scientists have been pushing for that eventual goal, while others would prefer to do more research along the rim.

What is interesting about Marathon Valley is that it takes the rover deep into the crater’s rim. Previously Opportunity has been limited to exploring the rim’s outer edges, since the rim itself is generally too rugged for the rover to traverse.

Opportunity has another brief memory loss

Less than a week after engineers had rebooted the rover’s memory and thus thought they had solved its flash memory problems, Opportunity has had another brief bout of amnesia.

They didn’t loss any data, and the event was much smaller than the problems that had shut down use of the memory banks in December. Nonetheless, they do not know what caused it.

Accumulative problems like this are what will likely end Opportunity’s life. It appears we might be seeing the arrival of old age in the rover.

NASA cuts Opportunity and LRO from budget

The 2016 budget proposed by NASA shuts down continued operation of either the Mars rover Opportunity or Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

As the article notes, both these missions continue to provide us a great deal of scientific bang for the buck. To shut them down, only to spend far more later to replace them, seems incredibly stupid.

Opportunity’s flash memory reformatted successfully

A three month old flash memory problem on the Mars rover Opportunity has finally been fixed by reformatting the rover’s memory banks.

Since the problem came up in December they have been operating the rover without any flash memory, essentially running it on the equivalent of its ram memory. This fix allows them to once again store data on the rover and gives them more flexibility of operation.

Memory problems on Mars rover Opportunity

After more than ten years of operation, the Mars rover Opportunity has been suffering increasing flash memory problems with its computer.

Engineers have pinpointed the issue to one of the rover’s seven memory banks, and hope to upload software that will force Opportunity to stop using that particular bank. If so, the rover shall live on.

Opportunity to get a reboot

Because of an increasing number of computer resets on the Mars rover Opportunity, engineers plan to reformat the rover’s computer.

The resets, including a dozen this month, interfere with the rover’s planned science activities, even though recovery from each incident is completed within a day or two.

Flash memory retains data even when power is off. It is the type used for storing photos and songs on smart phones or digital cameras, among many other uses. Individual cells within a flash memory sector can wear out from repeated use. Reformatting clears the memory while identifying bad cells and flagging them to be avoided.

Obviously there is a risk, though small, that this action will not work and the mission will end here. Stay tuned.

Budget issues continue to threaten a number of successfully functioning science spacecraft, including Opportunity on Mars and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter circling the Moon.

Penny wise, pound foolish: Budget issues continue to threaten a number of successfully functioning science spacecraft, including Opportunity on Mars and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter circling the Moon.

Don’t be surprised if NASA announces soon that they are shutting down these spacecraft so they can save some money. Or as the article notes, “Money not spent on these extended missions will probably slide into [the Science Mission Directorate’s] Black Hole of Funding (the James Webb Space Telescope) or be dissipated on new paperwork, committee meetings and concept studies.”

The Obama administration budget proposal for NASA includes shutting down Opportunity in 2015.

Penny wise pound foolish: The Obama administration budget proposal for NASA included shutting down Opportunity in 2015.

This is very stupid. It costs about a billion dollars to build a rover and get it to Mars. And that’s assuming everything works. Opportunity is already there and functioning flawlessly at a fraction of that cost. Rather than cutting Opportunity, NASA should consider cutting the new rover mission so that the money could be used for other planetary exploration, such as a mission to Titan.

Orbital images from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have confirmed that the mysterious rock that appeared near Opportunity was not ejecta from a nearby meteorite impact.

Orbital images from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have confirmed that the mysterious rock that appeared near Opportunity was not ejecta from a nearby meteorite impact.

The scientists theorized that there was a very remote chance that a nearby impact has thrown the rock into place, but the images show nothing nearby. Moreover, if there had been an impact we probably would have seen more rocks raining down all around. The images are further confirmation that the rock was kicked up by the rover itself as it rolled along.

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