Mars rover Curiosity prepares for test drive (Update)

Aug 21, 2012 by ROBERT JABLON
This full-resolution image from NASA's Curiosity shows the turret of tools at the end of the rover's extended robotic arm on Aug. 20, 2012. The Navigation Camera captured this view.

 Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists on Tuesday prepared to send Curiosity on its first test drive over the billion-year-old rocks of Mars and said a busted wind sensor won't jeopardize its mission of determining whether life could exist there.

Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena turned four of the rover's six wheels in place this week in a successful "wheel wiggle" to test the steering for Wednesday's trek, mission manager Mike Watkins said.

"We are go for our first drive tomorrow," Watkins said.

(CLICK ENLARGE) This set of images shows the movement of the rear right wheel of NASA's Curiosity as rover drivers turned the wheels in place at the landing site on Mars. Engineers wiggled the wheels as a test of the rover's steering and anticipate embarking on Curiosity's first drive in the next couple of days. This image was taken by one of Curiosity's Navigation cameras on Aug. 21. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The rover will move forward about 10 feet (3 meters), turn right, then back up and park slightly to the left of its old spot, Watkins said.

"You will definitely see tracks," he said.

The test drive is part of a health checkup the rover has been undergoing since arriving on Aug. 5. Eventually, the rover could roam hundreds of feet (meters) a day over the ancient crater where it landed.

Meanwhile, researchers discovered the damaged wind sensor while checking out instruments that Curiosity will use to check the Martian weather and soil.


This animation depicts movements of the robotic arm of 's Mars rover as commanded for Aug. 20, 2012, the first time the arm was used on Mars. The animation is derived from visualization software that rover planners use in developing the commands sent to the rover.

The cause of the damage wasn't known, but one possibility is that pebbles thrown up by Curiosity's descent fell onto the sensor's delicate, exposed circuit boards and broke some wires, said Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for Curiosity.

A second sensor is operating and should do the job, but Vasavada said scientists may "have to work a little harder" to determine wind speed and direction, which are important factors that can determine when the rover is allowed to move.

"But we think we can work around that," he added.

This full-resolution image from NASA's Curiosity shows the elbow joint of the rover's extended robotic arm on Aug. 20, 2012. The Navigation Camera captured this view.

 Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists also continued to test and calibrate Curiosity's 7-foot (2.1-meter)-long arm and its extensive tool kit — which includes a drill, a scoop, a spectrometer and a camera — in preparation for collecting its first soil samples and attempting to learn whether the Martian environment was favorable for microbial life.

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Mike_Massen
3.6 / 5 (8) Aug 21, 2012
Gosh !

Why would they have exposed circuit boards anyway, surely they would be covered - even with some hardy robust plasticised material and any wires which could be broken by a falling pebble should have a baffle over them or at least some spiral wrap and strain relief, ie. to deflect any dross thrown up during landing or dust storms...

Pity there isn't a form of robotic arm/hand that can come out of its mid-rib and attend to minor repairs. I was hoping there would be the opportunity to make at least one of the arms rather more multi-use if at least so as to attend to repairs to the other rovers after the main mission is over should Curiousity go farther.

Can any of the onboard cameras view the sensor damage in any detail ?

I use (Poly Vinlidene Chloride) PVDC for a lot of circuit boards here on Earth but gawd knows I will take a closer look at any equipment I end up using extra-terrestrially in the near future.


MrVibrating
5 / 5 (2) Aug 21, 2012
Yes, you'd think all components and loose wires on circuit boards would be fully potted wherever possible. Shame, but at least they've a workaround solution so no net loss of function..
javjav
5 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2012
Why would they have exposed circuit boards anyway, surely they would be covered - even with someust plasticised material and



yeah, cover a wind sensor with plastic and it will only work when wind speed is 0 km/h..
In any case a direct hit is not needed, I am afraid a strong vibration is enough to break it. Weight is critical and shielding is reduced to a minimum. And some redundancy seems to be in place. I imagine that in the worst
case you could vaporize a sample with the laser and see where the gas is going and how fast.
Doug_Huffman
5 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2012
Gosh ! Why would they have exposed circuit boards anyway, surely they would be covered -
Gee whiz, didn't you think of a hot wire anemometer, even just an RTD bridge, both of which require exposed elements. Shucks happens.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (2) Aug 22, 2012
Doug_Huffman seemed to offer an excuse
Gee whiz, didn't you think of a hot wire anemometer, even just an RTD bridge, both of which require exposed elements. Shucks happens.
Well yes (cough), knowing there will be dross flying around during descent and during the landing manoeuvre it would be sensible to have any exposed hot wire in a cavity recess and spring release which activates when the equipment is enabled/tested presumably some time after landing...

GSwift7
not rated yet Aug 22, 2012
multi-use if at least so as to attend to repairs to the other rovers after the main mission is over should Curiousity go farther


Curiosity has a limited lifetime, since it is powered by a radioactive thermal generator (RTG). It has no solar panels. The RTG produces a voltage proportional to the heat it generates. That heat slowly decreases as it uses up its radioactive fuel source, and so the voltage also decreases. The RTG charges batteries, which provide constant voltage to the rover. In order to charge a battery, you must provide a higher voltage than the output of the battery. In a car, your alternator provides around 14 volts to charge the 12 volt battery, for example. Once the RTG output voltage falls below the voltage of the rover battery, the rover will die. That is expected to take more than two years, but exactly how long it will last after that will be unknown until it gets closer to the end. No other rovers are planned in that time.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
not rated yet Aug 22, 2012
Ready, set, ...

@ MM:

"so as to attend to repairs to the other rovers after the main mission is over".

Curiosity is far from the over rovers, and it takes about a year/km doing science to reach the Aeolis Mons. It will climb that for several years, and hopefully end up on top of that. I don't think the rover egress the crater anyway, mostly steep walls.

"knowing there will be dross flying around".

It was unexpected to find regolith on the rover. Either the regolith is lighter than they estimated, or their checks weren't as good as they should have been. The next rover will not make this mistake.

All lenses had a spring release cover. But that was intended to keep dust from the optical pathway. (And images through the transparent covers shows that was a good assessment.)

Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
not rated yet Aug 22, 2012
@ GSwift7:

"The RTG produces a voltage proportional to the heat it generates. That heat slowly decreases as it uses up its radioactive fuel source, and so the voltage also decreases."

Right. I'll add that, as the Voyager's shows, a large contributing factor is thermocouple degradation which cuts decades of the power source lifetime. (IIRC, ~ 70 years instead of ~ 90 years for the last few mW.)

The new MMRTG has what seems to be inferior ceramic thermocouples to the Apollo generation, a lost art, because they were degraded by vibrations during testing. Not so much during launch and EDL apparently, so the nominal 2 year mission that was planned after the degradation was discovered (and the initial lunch date had a 2 year delay with already produced radioisotopes) can be decades more (because at best the rover can end up as a stationary science platform).
Mayday
not rated yet Aug 22, 2012
I bit off topic, but viewing the raw images, are they having a touch of trouble with the camera focus? Lots of super-soft shots.
gwrede
not rated yet Aug 22, 2012
Covering every delicate thing with a removable cover adds too much weight, makes the rover even more complicated, requires new sensors, activators and programming, and ultimately just adds a lot of potential points of failure. They have to draw the line somewhere.

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