Two weeks after landing on the surface of Mars, the Curiosity rover will take its first road trip tomorrow, the JPL team announced. The rover will inch forward about three meters (one rover length), turn right 90 degrees, and back up another couple meters, coming to rest in a different spot than where it landed.The team will be uploading these directions to curiosity around midnight Pacific time tonight, and the rover will perform the movements during the Mars day tomorrow and report back. It should take about half an hour.
If the drive test is successful, the team said they will probably be heading out to their first science spot, Glenelg, a few days from now, on Sol 20. The team will go slow at first, about 10 to 30 meters per day.
The team also announced today that they’ve successfully tested out the rover’s arm, and several other instruments with only one hook up. A few wind sensors on the rover aren’t working correctly — they may have been irreversibly damaged by gravel that was kicked up during the landing. They will be able to compensate for this loss with input from several other, non damaged wind sensors.
The team also did a successful wheel wiggle test — all four steerable wheels on the outer corners of the rover are working.
This comes after a successful test this weekend of the rover’s arm — which contains about 30 kilograms of complex instrumentation, including a drill bit. The team showed images of the arm fully extended and were able to ascertain that all of this equipment seems to be undamaged.”The sampling system, this toolkit at the end of the arm, it’s one of the most complex things we’ve ever built and sent into space,” Mike Watkins, the Mars Science Laboratory mission manager at JPL, said in today’s press conference.
The arm won’t be ready for full use until the group calibrates its ability to move around in Mars gravity, which will happen in a few weeks after some roving and additional science activities take place. Then the arm will use these special instruments on the turret to get a close look at the Martian dust with a camera and spectrometer and be able to scoop up gravel and create powdered rock with the scoop and drill respectively.
“We are looking forward to exciting times in the future,” Louise Janduar, MSL sample system lead engineer, said.
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech /Russian Space Research Institute
Two other instruments on the rover, the DAN and REMS sensors, are being used to monitor the Martian environment. DAN is uses a radiation sensor to take a close look at the neutrons given out by what’s underneath the rover at any given time. These neutrons can tell us how much water was on the surface of Mars. Their latest data suggests that there is water in Gale crater, as they already knew, and that it’s in the form of hydrated minerals, team leader Igor Mitofanov announced. As DAN continues to collect data as Curiosity moves across the surface, they will learn how the water content of the Martian soil is different in different areas.
The other sensor, REMS, acts as a weather station — monitoring the pressure, temperature and wind on the surface. One of its sensors is the wind-sensing electronics mentioned above. There are two sets of three sensors facing in opposite directions, and it seems that two of the three circuit boards in one of the groups aren’t working correctly — they are sending back weird “saturated” signals.
“We know pretty conclusively that one of the two REMS booms has a degraded wind sensing ability,” Javier Gomez-Elvira, the REMS principal investigator, said in the press conference.The team says the sensors were working correctly before landing, so the landing probably caused the problems. The damage seems to be permanent, the team said, but they should be able to compensate for the broken sensors using the ones that are still working.
The rest of the REMS sensors are working, and have sent back temperature and pressure data from the surface of Mars, seen in these charts.
There is good news from the team too: The Chemcam, used to blast Martian rocks with a laser beam and detect their chemical structure, is working better than expected. The results from their test blast of Rock N165 show exactly what they expected — it was made up of your average, everyday Mars basalt. Data from the other Chemcam targets hasn’t been processed yet.
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