Mars Exploration Rovers
December 31, 2014
NASA to try to reconfigure a flash drive—on Mars
NASA is going to try to disable some faulty flash memory on the Opportunity rover, which is over a decade into its planned three-month mission to explore Mars. Defects in one of the rover's seven banks of flash memory are causing a series of reboots and "amnesia" events that are making it difficult for the rover to continue its scientific mission.
Opportunity uses a combination of volatile memory and flash memory. The volatile memory is used to store data obtained by the scientific instruments, which is sent back to Earth prior to nightfall, when power is cut from the rover's solar panels. The flash memory is used to store telemetry and command information, which allow the rover to continue its mission as the next day starts. If the flash memory is faulty or unavailable, the rover has to do a reset and wait for new commands from Earth.
This started occurring with regularity by early December, prompting NASA to reformat the flash memory. Problems continued, however, and technicians eventually localized the issue to one of the banks of on-board flash memory that provide Opportunity with 2GB of storage. So NASA started to plan for a software patch that would deactivate that bank and allow the rover to function with the remaining six.
November 11, 2014
Newest NASA Mars Orbiter Demonstrates Relay Prowess
The newest node in NASA's Mars telecommunications network -- a radio aboard the MAVEN orbiter custom-designed for data links with robots on the surface of Mars -- handled a copious 550 megabits during its first relay of real Mars data.
MAVEN's Electra UHF radio received the transmission from NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on Nov. 6, using an adaptive data rate as the orbiter passed through the sky over the rover. The data that MAVEN relayed to NASA's Deep Space Network of large dish antennas on Earth included several images of terrain that Curiosity has been examining at the base of Mars' Mount Sharp. The test also included relaying data to Curiosity from Earth via MAVEN.
September 24, 2014
Mars Robotic Spacecraft Population Reaches New High
September has shaped up to be a very exciting month in the annals of Mars exploration. Two new spacecraft, NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission and India's first interplanetary mission, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), have now entered orbit around the Red Planet.
The new arrivals bring the population of active Mars missions to seven—a record high, confirms Bruce Betts of The Planetary Society, a space advocacy organization. On the ground now are Opportunity, which landed in 2004, and NASA's Curiosity rover, which recently entered its third year of operation.
MAVEN and MOM join a complement of three orbiters: NASA's 13-year-old Mars Odyssey spacecraft, the European Space Agency's 11-year-old Mars Express spacecraft, and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived in 2006.
August 15, 2014
Mars Orbiters Duck for Cover
Sky & Telescope
As Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring hurtles toward Mars, NASA is taking steps to protect its Martian orbiters. The plan? Use the planet itself as a shield between the spacecraft and the comet’s potentially dangerous debris.
As part of its long-term Mars Exploration Program, NASA currently has two spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey, with Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) set to arrive in late September. Teams of scientists at the University of Maryland, the Planetary Science Institute, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) have used data from both Earth-based and space telescopes to model Siding Spring’s journey through the inner solar system, and determined that there is no risk of the comet colliding with Mars. However, at its closest approach to Mars on October 19, 2014, Siding Spring will come within 82,000 miles of the Red Planet, which is about a third of the distance from Earth to the Moon. The closest comets ever to whiz by Earth have been at least ten times more distant.
July 28, 2014
NASA Long-Lived Mars Opportunity Rover Passes 25 Miles of Driving
NASA's Opportunity Mars rover, which landed on the Red Planet in 2004, now holds the off-Earth roving distance record after accruing 25 miles (40 kilometers) of driving. The previous record was held by the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 rover.
"Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world," said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance."
June 24, 2014
Aluminum-Bearing Site on Mars Draws NASA Visitor
With its solar panels their cleanest in years, NASA's decade-old Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is inspecting a section of crater-rim ridgeline chosen as a priority target due to evidence of a water-related mineral.
Orbital observations of the site by another NASA spacecraft, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, found a spectrum with the signature of aluminum bound to oxygen and hydrogen. Researchers regard that signature as a marker for a mineral called montmorillonite, which is in a class of clay minerals called smectites. Montmorillonite forms when basalt is altered under wet and slightly acidic conditions. The exposure of it extends about 800 feet (about 240 meters) north to south on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, as mapped by the orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).
"It's like a mineral beacon visible from orbit saying, 'Come check this out,'" said Opportunity Principal Investigator Steve Squyres, of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
May 24, 2014
Mars Weathercam Spots Big New Crater
Before and after shots taken by a Mars-orbiting satellite have detected a newly created impact crater half the size of a football field near the planet's equator.
NPR's Joe Palca says that while objects are striking Mars all the time (with big chunks surviving until impact, thanks to the Red Planet's thin atmosphere), this is the first time scientists have been able to determine the exact day a meteor struck – in this case, sometime on March 28, 2012.
But it wasn't noticed until two months ago.
April 9, 2014
Look how clean Opportunity is now!
The Planetary Society
You've heard from both Larry Crumpler and A. J. S. Rayl recently about how Opportunity has enjoyed a cleaning event that's left her solar panels sparkling in the sunshine. Here's a rover deck panorama to corroborate that story, newly processed by James Sorenson. I love how the position of the rover mast's shadow across the deck perfectly implies its presence and even height. (Opportunity, of course, cannot see her own camera mast.)
March 17, 2014
Obama proposes ending Mars Odyssey, Mars Opportunity in NASA budget
According to a March 13, 2014 story on Fox News, two venerable but successful Mars probes face the budget ax by the Obama administration in the FY 2015 funding request for NASA.
“NASA’s baseline budget for the year beginning Oct. 1 pulls the plug on the 10-year-old Mars rover Opportunity, newly released details of the agency’s fiscal 2015 spending plan show.
“The plan, which requires Congressional approval, also anticipates ending the orbiting Mars Odyssey mission on Sept. 30, 2016.”
February 4, 2014
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover looks to 'jump' sand dune
The Curiosity Mars rover is to try to drive over a one metre-high dune.
The sand bank is currently blocking the robot's path into a small valley and a route with fewer of the sharp rocks that lately have been making big dents in the vehicle's aluminium wheels.
US space agency engineers will take no risks, however. The rover will be commanded initially to climb only part way up the dune to see how it behaves.
The team is mindful that NASA's Spirit rover was lost in a sand trap in 2009.
And the Opportunity rover, which has just celebrated 10 working years on the planet, very nearly went the same way in 2005 when it became stuck for several weeks in a deep dirt pile later dubbed "Purgatory Dune".
January 31, 2014
The Opportunity Rover Looks Nearly Unrecognizable After 10 Years On Mars
The Opportunity rover recently celebrated 10 years on Mars, even though the mission was only planned for three months. Engineers thought the rover would conk out much sooner, in part because they believed its solar panels would quickly become caked with dust and cut off the robot's power supply. Instead, they found that wind storms actually help to clean the panels.
Over the years, Opportunity has taken several self-portraits — an overhead view of the rover made by combining several images — that give us a good idea of how much dust has accumulated on the solar panels. Compared to its first year on Mars, the rover is looking really dirty today.
January 24, 2014
Bill Nye and Planetary Radio Live Celebrate the Rovers
The Planetary Society
We'll talk about the accomplishments of both Opportunity and her sister, Spirit, and the legacy of these two little explorers that have gone far beyond their creators' dreams.
Society Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist Emily Lakdawalla will present stunning images of Mars, and Director of Projects Bruce Betts will join Mat for a live edition of What's Up. Also returning by popular demand, the great gypsy swing band, Hedgehog Swing!
January 22, 2014
Large international interest in riding with NASA’s next Mars Rover
The next NASA rover to be sent to the surface of Mars has received twice the usual amount of proposals for carrying science and exploration technology instruments. The agency is reviewing a total of 58 submitted proposals, 17 of which came from international partners, ahead of a proposed mission in 2020. Announced at the end of 2012, the next NASA rover will be based on the Curiosity Rover that is currently exploring the surface of Mars.
January 17, 2014
Mystery Rock 'Appears' in Front of Mars Rover
fter a decade of exploring the Martian surface, the scientists overseeing veteran rover Opportunity thought they’d seen it all. That was until a rock mysteriously “appeared” a few feet in front of the six wheeled rover a few days ago.
News of the errant rock was announced by NASA Mars Exploration Rover lead scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University at a special NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory “10 years of roving Mars” event at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, Calif., on Thursday night. The science star-studded public event was held in celebration of the decade since twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed on the red planet in January 2004.
December 18, 2013
An Updated Mars Exploration Family Portrait
The Planetary Society
The Mars Exploration Family Portrait shows every dedicated spacecraft mission to Mars, and now includes India’s Mars Orbiter Mission and NASA's MAVEN. The dates listed are for launch.
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