Tag Archives: rover

ISS astronaut to steer rover on Earth

On to Mars! The British have enlisted the skills of astronaut Tim Peake on ISS to do some test driving of a prototype rover planned for launch on the second ExoMars mission in 2018.

Major Peake will operate Bruno remotely from the International Space Station. His mission will be to drive the robot into a make-shift cave, which will replicate the conditions on Mars, where he will seek out targets marked with an “X”. “There are caves on Mars and craters that cast long shadows,” said Airbus Defence & Space communications director Jeremy Close. “To explore those areas, it’s more efficient to have a human in the loop.”

I must be a bit of a skeptical grump here: Looking at this story I found it packed with more public relations junk than you can imagine. The whole test facility shown is absurd. All show, no reality. Also, their claims about the rover’s route-finding superiority don’t sound right to me.

And the rover itself? This is the prototype of what they plan to launch in 2018? You have got to be kidding? We are less than two years from launch. While I grant this is probably only a model for testing the robot’s route-finding capability, using something held together by packing tape at this late date hardly fills me with confidence about the final product.

Hat tip John Batchelor for sending me the link.

Curiosity reaches Naukluft Plateau

The view from Naukluft

Apropos to my post yesterday on Curiosity’s journey on Mars, the rover this week reached the flat area the science team has dubbed Naukluff Plateau.

The Sol 1281 drive completed as planned, crossing the Murray/Stimson contact at the edge of the Naukluft plateau. Now that we have a better view of the plateau, we are ready to start driving across it. But first, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe targets “Orupembe” and “Witvlei” on the bedrock in front of the rover. Mastcam will also take pictures of the rocks in front of the rover and targets “Natab East” and “Natab West” on either side of the vehicle before the Sol 1282 drive. After the drive, in addition to the usual post-drive imaging, the Left Mastcam will acquire a full 360-degree panorama, as the view from the new location (near the left edge of the image above) is expected to be good. We are looking forward to seeing the new data!

The second link above leads to the rover’s daily update site. It was here that the science team reported an issue with the rover’s scoop back in early February. Since then, however, they have never revealed if the problem was solved. Nor have they used the scoop in any way since then. I now wonder if it is no longer operational and am considering pursuing that question a bit to find out.

Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater

Curiosity's traverse

The Curiosity science team recently released a new Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image, showing Curiosity’s overall route since its landing on Mars in August 2012. I have posted a reduced version on the right.

Similarly, on the Curiosity website you can view this more detailed map of its traverse route. This map is updated regularly as Curiosity continues its climb up Mount Sharp.

Neither of these maps is to me very satisfying or useful, however. Neither shows the overall location of Curiosity within Gale Crater. Nor do they give one a sense of how far it is has come on its climb up the mountain. In fact, it is very unclear how close the rover actually is to the peak from either image.

Thus, I decided to do a little research to get some better context of Curiosity’s position and its overall journey.
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China unveils model of planned 2020 Martian probe

The competition heats up: China today unveiled a one-third scale model of its planned Martian lander/rover, scheduled for launch in 2020.

If they succeed in putting a lander and rover on Mars, China will have clearly demonstrated the capability to do almost anything in space that the United States can do. The competition in the coming decades should thus be most interesting.

Posted from Tucson International Airport.

Curiosity’s future path

Looking up Mt Sharp

Cool image time! The Curiosity science team has produced another panorama of Mount Sharp and the regions that the rover will soon traverse.

This composite image looking toward the higher regions of Mount Sharp was taken on September 9, 2015, by NASA’s Curiosity rover. In the foreground — about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the rover — is a long ridge teeming with hematite, an iron oxide. Just beyond is an undulating plain rich in clay minerals. And just beyond that are a multitude of rounded buttes, all high in sulfate minerals. The changing mineralogy in these layers of Mount Sharp suggests a changing environment in early Mars, though all involve exposure to water billions of years ago. The Curiosity team hopes to be able to explore these diverse areas in the months and years ahead. Further back in the image are striking, light-toned cliffs in rock that may have formed in drier times and now is heavily eroded by winds.

They have adjusted the colors, adding blue, so that things look as they would on Earth, in order to help the geologists understand what they are looking at.

Be sure and click on the link. The full resolution image is quite amazing. Like mountains on Earth, from a distance things look a lot simpler than they do once you get there. The slopes of Mount Sharp are complex and rugged, and will be a big challenge for Curiosity to traverse.

Moreover, this rough terrain illustrates that the Martian surface has, like Earth, been significantly shaped by erosion. The surface we see here is not the surface produced by the impact that produced the crater. It has been reshaped and eroded over many eons by many later processes, including wind and water.

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.

Curiosity moves on

After six months and a short pause in work while engineers analyzed a short circuit, Curiosity has finally left the Pahrump Hills are on the slopes of Mount Sharp.

The rover has begun driving away from the Pahrump Hills outcrop where it had spent the last six months. On Thursday, March 12, it drove about 33 feet (about 10 meters) southwestward. The rover team plans on taking Curiosity through a valley called “Artist’s Drive” to reach higher geological layers of Mount Sharp. Curiosity is currently heading towards a rock outcrop known as “Garden City.”

The link has a nice image showing Curiosity’s recent travels as well as its future route.

Yutu is slowly dying

China’s lunar rover Yutu, unable to move since its first few weeks on the moon, is slowly dying.

The rover is currently in good condition and works normally, but its control problem persists, said Yu Dengyun, deputy chief designer of China’s lunar probe mission. “Yutu has gone through freezing lunar nights under abnormal status, and its functions are gradually degrading,” Yu told Xinhua at an exclusive interview. He said that the moon rover and the lander of the Chang’e-3 lunar mission have completed their tasks very well. The rover’s designed lifetime is just three months, but it has survived for over nine.

As China’s first planetary rover mission, the limited roving success of Yutu is well balanced by its ability to continue functioning on the lunar survey for so long. The engineering data obtained from this mission will serve Chinese engineers well as they plan future missions.

Polish and Egyptian teams win first European rover competition

In Europe’s first college competition to see who could build the best Mars rover, two Polish teams finished first and second, with an Egyptian team coming in third.

The first ever European Rover Challenge (ERC) is over and the Scorpio Team from Wrocław University of Technology can now celebrate their victory over 9 other contestants plus a $1,000 cash prize. The challenge was to design, construct and operate a rover that most successfully complete a number of Mars-exploration themed tasks designed by the organizers. “A year of hard work is now finally fulfilled,” said Jędrzej Górski of the Scorpio Team. “Our efficiency is the result of our cohesive team.” The second spot was secured by Polish crew also, the Impuls Team from Kielce University of Technology. Lunar and Mars Rover Team from Cairo University in Egypt scooped the 3rd place. A special bonus award was given to the Robocol Team of Universidad de los Andes (Colombia). ERC 2014 took place in Podzamcze, Poland on Sept. 5-7.

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.

Curiosity retreats from Hidden Valley

Finding its sandy floor slipperier than expected, engineers have backed Curiosity out of Hidden Valley to drill some holes while they reassess the rover’s route.

The rover’s wheels slipped more in Hidden Valley’s sand than the team had expected based on experience with one of the mission’s test rovers driven on sand dunes in California. The valley is about the length of a football field and does not offer any navigable exits other than at the northeastern and southwestern ends. “We need to gain a better understanding of the interaction between the wheels and Martian sand ripples, and Hidden Valley is not a good location for experimenting,” said Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson of JPL. …

Curiosity reversed course and drove out of Hidden Valley northeastward. On the way toward gaining a good viewpoint to assess a possible alternative route north of the valley, it passed over the pale paving stones on the ramp again. Where a rover wheel cracked one of the rocks, it exposed bright interior material, possibly from mineral veins.

More and more, the journey to Mount Sharp appears to be increasingly adventurous for the rover.

The next U.S. Mars rover will try to make and store oxygen

Of the seven science instruments proposed for the next U.S. Mars rover, scheduled for a 2020 launch date, MOXIE test the engineering to produce and store oxygen, pulled from the Martian atmosphere.

Developed in partnership with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it’s based on the fact that the Martian atmosphere, though extremely thin, is composed of 96 percent carbon dioxide, which means its a vast potential source of oxygen for future explorers and settlers. Essentially, MOXIE is a fuel cell in reverse. Instead of generating electricity by using oxygen to burn a fuel, it uses a process called solid oxide electrolysis , where electricity is employed to split carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon monoxide.

This process would see Martian air pumped into the unit through a dust filter and pressurized before being passed into a fuel cell. At high temperatures, some ceramic oxides act as oxygen ion conductors. In the fuel cell, a thin, non-porous disc of this ceramic separates two porous electrodes. One electrode acts as the cathode and the other as the anode. Carbon dioxide passes through the cathode and when it comes into contact with the ceramic, the interaction of electricity and the ceramic causes the carbon dioxide to split into oxygen and carbon monoxide. The oxygen and the carbon monoxide are then separated and the oxygen stored.

What makes this unusual is that NASA has actually dedicated one science instrument to engineering research, not pure science. The agency does not do this much anymore, but such research is essential if the U.S. is going to someday send humans to other planets.

China claimed today that its lunar rover Yutu is still alive on the Moon.

China claimed today that its lunar rover Yutu is still alive on the Moon.

The rover is still able to send data back to Earth using the Chang’e 3 probe that delivered it, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing Li Bengzheng, deputy commander-in-chief of China’s lunar program. But the buggy’s wheels and the solar panel designed for thermal insulation during the frozen lunar nights no longer work, Li said. The craft’s functionality is progressively deteriorating “with each lunar night,” Li said.

What is significant here is that though the rover’s ability to rove failed much sooner than planned, its longevity now means that much of their engineering for future missions will work.

The first preliminary list of candidate landing sites for NASA’s next Mars rover have been proposed.

The first preliminary list of candidate landing sites for NASA’s next Mars rover have been proposed.

At the conclusion of the workshop, attendees voted informally on the nearly 30 candidate sites that researchers had presented—ranking the sites as being of high, medium, or low scientific interest. Floating to the top was a site called Northeast Syrtis Major, a terrain at the edge of the Isidis Basin, the remnant of one of Mars’s biggest and most ancient asteroid impacts. Jack Mustard, a planetary scientist at Brown University and an advocate for the site, says material from the impact could offer a precise date for that event. Scientists also want a piece of nearby lava flows, thought to have oozed out and cooled several hundred million years later.

Nothing is even close to being decided yet, however.

In related news, a new study suggests that dozens of microbes might have stowed away on Curiosity when it left for Mars.

Emphasis must be placed on the word “suggests” however.

Curiosity has reached another area of interesting terrain: rows of layered curvy rocks.

Curiosity has reached another area of interesting terrain: rows of layered curvy rocks.

The science team has been hunting for tasty rock outcrops suitable for the first drilling campaign since she departed the dried out lakebed at Yellowknife Bay in July 2013 and began her epic trek across the floor of Gale Crater towards the base of Mount Sharp. With each passing Sol, or Martian day, Mount Sharp looms larger and larger and the historical layers with deposits of hydrated minerals potentially indicative of an alien habitable zone come ever clearer into focus.

The panoramas are quite spectacular as the rover continues its journey toward Mt Sharp.

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.

China’s rover about to go to sleep for the long lunar night.

China’s rover is about to go to sleep for the long lunar night.

According to Wu Fenglei of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, the lander will “go to sleep” at about 7 a.m. on Christmas Day and the moon rover, Jade Rabbit, will fall asleep at about 1 a.m. on Boxing Day. The forthcoming lunar night, expected to begin on Dec. 26, will last for about two weeks, experts with the center estimated. During their “sleep”, both lander and rover will have to tolerate minus 180 degrees Celsius. Scientists tested the lander early Tuesday to ensure it can stand the temperature drop. Both lander and rover are stable, said Wu, adding they have completed a series of scientific tasks in the past two days.

This report states the rover landed in Sinus Iridum, the original announced landing site, contradicting other reports that said the lander came down in Mare Imbrium.

It seems Curiosity’s wheels are wearing out faster than expected and engineers want to know why.

It seems Curiosity’s wheels are wearing out faster than expected and engineers want to know why.

The increasedwear recently appears to be because the rover was traveling over rougher terrain. Nonetheless, JPL engineers are going to monitor the rover’s travel and wheel damage more closely in order to gauge that wear better for future travel.

The rover Opportunity has settled into its winter haven on Mars.

The rover Opportunity has settled into its winter haven on Mars.

The rover’s handlers plan to get Opportunity up onto Solander Point’s north-facing slope before mid-December, NASA officials said. But the golf-cart-size robot won’t hibernate through the winter; rather, it will continue to move about, investigating several different Solander Point outcrops.

On Friday an astronaut on ISS controlled and steered a rover on Earth.

On Friday an astronaut on ISS controlled and steered a rover on Earth.

While zipping around Earth several hundred miles above the planet’s surface, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano drove a 220-pound (100 kilograms) rover across a moon-mimicking landscape here at NASA’s Ames Research Center, even ordering the robot to deploy a simulated film-based radio telescope antenna.

NASA announced yesterday plans to launch by 2020 a twin rover of Curiosity to Mars.

NASA announced yesterday plans to launch by 2020 a twin rover of Curiosity to Mars.

Though it makes sense to use the same designs again, saving money, I must admit a personal lack of excitement about this announcement. First, I have doubts it will fly because of the federal government’s budget woes. Second, it is kind of a replacement for the much more challenging and exciting missions to Titan and Europa that the Obama administration killed when they slashed the planetary budget last year.

The mysterious shiny particles uncovered by Curiosity’s scoop are from Mars, not the rover.

The mysterious shiny particles uncovered by Curiosity’s scoop are from Mars, not the rover.

After last week’s plastic encounter, Curiosity’s science team worried the new particles might be man-made. Since they turned up in scoop holes, however, the granules must have been buried in the subsurface. They likely came from larger minerals that broke down. They might also represent the product of some geological soil process that generates a bright but unknown mineral.

These are not the same mysterious objects first seen when the rover began science operations. Those particles were on the surface, and looked like bits of plastic that might have come off the rover or its descent stage.

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