USGS Astrogeology Science Center News http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/news News about current and upcoming space missions, USGS gelogic products and historical exhibits en-us <![CDATA[Sol 604 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Test Results from the Mars Yard]]> Fri, 18 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Thursday was the last day of the MSL science team meeting, and the discussion shifted from science results to analysis of wheel wear, both on Mars and on Earth. The engineers at JPL have done a lot of testing in the Mars Yard and compared the results with the many images of the wheels on Mars. Although these images show that wheel wear continues, the damage is accumulating at a lower rate due to the changes in traverse planning that have been implemented in the past few months. Driving over rough terrain appears to be the most significant threat to the wheels, and efforts to recognize and avoid hazardous terrain using data returned by Mars orbiters have allowed safer drive paths to be chosen. It was clear that the engineers are not as concerned about wheel wear as they were last fall, and that they do not feel that wheel wear will limit the lifetime of rover mobility. This conclusion was based in part on tests in the JPL Mars Yard that showed that even very heavily damaged wheels performed well in climbing rocky and sandy slopes.

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<![CDATA[Sol 603 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Seeking a Drill Site]]> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 While most of the MSL science team met at Caltech to discuss recent results and plans for the near future, the tactical team planned a 65-meter drive toward the southeastern side of Mount Remarkable, near the site chosen for the next drilling campaign. The rover will pause in the middle of the drive to image the backup drill site, then acquire all the data needed to select contact science targets and bump to a drill site this weekend. Planning is restricted again, so untargeted science will be planned for Sol 604.

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<![CDATA[Sol 602 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Mount Remarkable]]> Tue, 15 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 I'm attending a 3-day meeting of the full MSL science team, so I'm less focused on rover operations than usual this week. After lots of interesting discussion of scientific data and hypotheses today, we did spend some time discussing where to drill and acquire a rock sample. The choices have been narrowed down to two locations on the flank of the hill called Mount Remarkable (at upper left, here). The scientific advantages of the two sites were discussed, and there were no major differences identified. But getting to one of the sites would involve driving over rough, rocky terrain that might damage the wheels, so that site was not favored.

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<![CDATA[Sol 601 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Closest Approach]]> Mon, 14 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 On April 14th, Mars made its closest approach to Earth this year. In addition, by chance, Earth's moon is totally eclipsed on the same night, very close in the sky to similarly red Mars. What a beautiful sight! Mars' proximity to Earth makes radio communications easier in general, but relay of data from MSL through the Mars orbiters to Earth is primarily constrained by the position of the orbiters in the sky over MSL. Communication from Earth to MSL is more affected by the Mars-Earth distance, but despite the close approach there was another problem sending commands to the rover last weekend, and therefore the planned contact science and drive did not occur.

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<![CDATA[Sol 598 - 600 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Preconditioning]]> Sat, 12 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 It was a busy day for the tactical uplink team, planning 3 sols to get MSL through the weekend. I was MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead, and focused on MAHLI imaging of the ChemCam window to determine how much dust is on it. We've taken such an image before when the window was in shadow, and wanted to try again with the window illuminated. We also planned MAHLI images of hardware on the remote sensing mast, to see if there are any signs of cable/fiber wear. Lots of ChemCam and Mastcam targeted observations are planned for Sol 598, followed by APXS and MAHLI observations on the outcrop in front of the rover. Then the rover will drive about 9 meters toward better outcrops, to get into position for more contact science next week. Finally SAM preconditioning and other activities are planned overnight to prepare for the next sample analysis.

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<![CDATA[Sol 597 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Runout Sequence]]> Fri, 11 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Unfortunately, the set of commands sent to the rover for Sol 596 were not received, so the rover correctly responded by executing the runout sequence that is appended to every day's command bundle. After confirming that the rover is healthy, the tactical team sent an only slightly modified version of the Sol 596 plan to the rover for execution on Sol 597. Hopefully it will be received as usual, and the rover will drive toward the outcrops of interest.

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<![CDATA[Sol 596 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Approaching an Outcrop]]> Thu, 10 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 The surface near the rover isn't very interesting, so planning for Sol 596 focused on driving toward the outcrops up to 50 meters away. During the drive, the rover will stop and acquire DAN, Hazcam and MARDI data on the striated unit before moving on. So it was an only slightly busier day for me as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead. After the drive, Navcam and Mastcam images will be taken to allow an approach to the outcrop on Sol 597.

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<![CDATA[Sol 595 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: In Opposition]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Mars is at opposition today, so Mars will rise at sunset and be visible all night here on Earth. On Mars, Earth is not visible because it is too close to the Sun.

The MSL Sol 595 plan is dominated by a drive along the edge of The Kimberley outcrop with Mastcam and Navcam stereo imaging at 4 locations along the way. Lots more Mastcam images will be taken after the drive, to help plan our exploration of The Kimberley. It was an easy day for me as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead, as only standard MAHLI wheel images, a stowed image, and a MARDI twilight image were planned.

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<![CDATA[Sol 594 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Staying Put]]> Mon, 07 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 The rover will stay put on Sol 594 and acquire lots of ChemCam and Mastcam data on interesting nearby rocks. I'm not scheduled in a tactical operations role today, but I'm following along because I'll be MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead tomorrow.

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<![CDATA[Sol 591 - 593 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Data Campaign]]> Sat, 05 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Planning for the weekend focused on investigating the troughs in front of the rover with ChemCam, Mastcam and MAHLI, then driving about 12 meters along the edge of the Kimberley outcrop and taking mid-drive measurements of subsurface hydrogen (water ice) content with DAN and imaging the outcrop with Mastcam. Lots of data are being acquired, so extra attention is being paid to prioritizing various observations so that they are received in the order they are needed. It may be a while before all of the data acquired during this waypoint campaign are received on Earth.

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<![CDATA[Sol 590 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Arrival at The Kimberley]]> Fri, 04 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 MSL has arrived at The Kimberley waypoint! The Sol 590 plan was dominated by Mastcam stereo observations of the extensive outcrop in front of the rover. Overnight, SAM will perform a cleaning activity in preparation for new sample analysis. The Mastcam mosaics should be useful in evaluating potential drill locations.

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<![CDATA[Sol 589 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Soil Observations]]> Wed, 02 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Another successful drive on Sol 588, so another drive is planned for Sol 589 after Mastcam and ChemCam observations of a soil target named Chirup. If the ~30-meter drive goes well, we should be in position to acquire lots of images of The Kimberley, the waypoint selected for thorough analysis using all of the instruments. Therefore, post-drive images are planned that will allow a big set of images to be accurately targeted.

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<![CDATA[Sol 588 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: The Path Ahead]]> Tue, 01 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 The rover drove about 22 meters on Sol 587, to a location with a better view of the path ahead. So a longer drive (about 45 m) is planned for Sol 588, around the rocky outcrop and then south. But first, a large stereo Mastcam mosaic of the outcrop will be acquired, plus smaller mosaics of targets Point Coulomb, Brooking Gorge, and Castlereagh Hill. After the usual post-drive imaging and DAN active measurement of subsurface hydrogen, ChemCam will zap the ground to the right of the rover and Mastcam will acquire a mosaic of the hill to the west of the expected rover location. This final mosaic will be pointed assuming the drive completes as planned.

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<![CDATA[Sol 587 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: The Kimberley]]> Mon, 31 Mar 2014 00:00:00 -0700 All of the activities planned for the weekend went well, and lots of good data have been received, with more on the way. Planning is no longer restricted now that the local time in Gale Crater and Pacific time are more in synch. So drive progress toward The Kimberley is expected to be more rapid this week. I'm SOWG Chair again today, and planning is going relatively smoothly so far despite the fact that we added a ~20-meter drive after a full set of wheel images. It looked for a while like we would not be able to do any targeted remote sensing before the wheel imaging due to power constraints, but once again the engineering team did a great job and found a way to fit the desired Mastcam observations into the plan.

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<![CDATA[Sol 585 - 586 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Back to Nominal Planning]]> Sat, 29 Mar 2014 00:00:00 -0700 MSL planning will transition from restricted to nominal next week, so the weekend plan includes only 2 sols, 585 and 586. The first sol is dominated by contact science, mostly MAHLI imaging of areas of the outcrop that have not yet been observed by MAHLI. Targeted remote science is planned on both sols, with APXS and CheMin activities overnight. As SOWG Chair today, I was very busy working to squeeze all of these good observations into the plan. We couldn't fit everything we wanted, but very close! On Sol 586, the rover will bump back from the outcrop in preparation for another full set of MAHLI wheel images. MAHLI has been very busy the past few days, and not done yet!

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