NASA Investigates Problems With Spirit

October 6, 2004
Spirit's View from 'Engineering Flats'

Engineers on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover team are investigating possible causes and remedies for a problem affecting the steering on Spirit.
The relay for steering actuators on Spirit's right-front and left-rear wheels did not operate as commanded on Oct. 1. Each of the front and rear wheels on the rover has a steering actuator, or motor, that adjusts the direction in which the wheels are headed independently from the motor that makes the wheels roll. When the actuators are not in use, electric relays are closed and the motor acts as a brake to prevent unintended changes in direction.

Engineers received results from Spirit today from a first set of diagnostic tests on the relay. "We are interpreting the data and planning additional tests," said Rick Welch, rover mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We hope to determine the best work-around if the problem does persist."

Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, successfully completed their three-month primary missions in April and five-month mission extensions in September. They began second extensions of their missions on Oct. 1. Spirit has driven more than 3.6 kilometers (2.2 miles), six times the distance set as a goal for mission success. It is climbing into uplands called the "Columbia Hills."

JPL's Jim Erickson, rover project manager, said, "If we do not identify other remedies, the brakes could be released by a command to blow the fuse controlling the relay, though that would make those two brakes unavailable for the rest of the mission." Without the steering-actuator brakes, small bumps or dips that a wheel hits during a drive might twist the wheel away from the intended drive direction.

"If we do need to disable the brakes, errors in drive direction could increase. However, the errors might be minimized by continuing to use the brakes on the left-front and right-rear wheels, by driving in smaller segments, and by adding a software patch to reset the direction periodically during a drive," Erickson said. Engineers believe the steering-brake issue is not related to excessive friction detected during the summer in the drive motor for Spirit's right-front wheel, because the steering actuator is a different motor.

Meanwhile, the team continues to use Spirit's robotic arm and camera mast to study rocks and soils around the rover, without moving the vehicle until the cause of the anomaly is understood and corrective measures can be implemented.

Source: NASA

Explore further: Jaguar Land Rover tech has car monitoring driver's concentration

Related Stories

Modular Robotic Vehicle developed at Johnson Space Center

April 16, 2015

We all know Google's star act for driving's future with its self-driving car. What if NASA were to step up and give us its rendition of a self-driving vehicle? A new video reveals how NASA handles the role. NASA actually ...

NASA braces for '7 minutes of terror' Mars plunge

August 5, 2012

NASA's most high-tech Mars rover on Sunday zeroed in on the red planet where it will attempt a tricky celestial gymnastics routine during a "seven minutes of terror" plummet through the atmosphere.

Recommended for you

Male seahorse and human pregnancies remarkably alike

September 1, 2015

Their pregnancies are carried by the males but, when it comes to breeding, seahorses have more in common with humans than previously thought, new research from the University of Sydney reveals.

Brazilian wasp venom kills cancer cells by opening them up

September 1, 2015

The social wasp Polybia paulista protects itself against predators by producing venom known to contain a powerful cancer-fighting ingredient. A Biophysical Journal study published September 1 reveals exactly how the venom's ...

Parasitized bees are self-medicating in the wild, study finds

September 1, 2015

Bumblebees infected with a common intestinal parasite are drawn to flowers whose nectar and pollen have a medicinal effect, a Dartmouth-led study shows. The findings suggest that plant chemistry could help combat the decline ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.