USGS Astrogeology Science Center Astrogeology News http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/news News about current and upcoming space missions, USGS gelogic products and historical exhibits en-us <![CDATA[Sol 876: Exciting New Software]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0700 By Lauren Edgar

The flight software transition is going well, and Curiosity is doing a test run of the new version.  Both the prime and backup rover computers are on track to commit to the upgrade by this weekend.  However, this means that it’s a pretty quiet week in terms of science operations.  In the meantime, the team is focused on all of the new MAHLI images that we’ve received of the latest drill hole and the surrounding rocks that were broken during drilling.

Speaking of new software, we’re looking forward to testing out the new OnSight software developed by a JPL team in collaboration with Microsoft.  The software uses holographic computing, and will allow scientists to study Curiosity’s worksite from a first-person view.  It sounds like this will provide a great new perspective and will be very useful for future planning! For more information on OnSight, check out the recent press release

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of MSL science team.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sols 873-879: Software Transition]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0700 by Ken Herkenhoff

There won't be any MSL science planned this week because the rover's software is being upgraded.  I was scheduled as SOWG Chair today and tomorrow in case the software transition had to be aborted, but so far it is going well so the science operations personnel have been released.  While I'm a bit disappointed that we won't be planning new scientific observations and related activities, I'm glad that the software transition is going well. 

 

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sols 871-872: A Software Upgrade is Available. Install Now?]]> Fri, 16 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0700 by Ryan Anderson

MAHLI view of the "chunk" of rock dislodged by the mini-drill activity

Today’s plan for sols 871 and 872 is our last chance to get some science done before we begin a week of no activity while the engineering team upgrades the rover software. The plan is to do two ChemCam “rasters” on targets “Funk Valley” and “Rainbow Basin”. Each raster will analyze three closely-spaced spots on the target. Funk Valley is our latest candidate mini-drill target (our last mini-drill ended up breaking the rock, so we’re trying again), and Rainbow Basin is a rock with some interesting erosion-resistant knobs. Mastcam will take supporting images of these targets and then we will be spending a pretty big chunk of time doing some data management for Mastcam, transferring less-compressed versions of some images from Mastcam’s internal memory over to the rover prior to the flight software update. The last activity on sol 871 will be an overnight analysis of the chunk of rock that our first mini-drill dislodged, using APXS. This is a rare chance to do APXS on a target with a fresh, non-dusty surface!

On sol 872, ChemCam will do some passive observations of the sky to measure how much oxygen, carbon dioxide, and dust is in the atmosphere and Navcam will do some routine atmospheric measurements. There are also a bunch of Mastcam images of the same locations at different times of the day. These are part of a photometry experiment, which is trying to understand how the sun scatters off of the martian surface at different angles. There are also a handful of Mastcam images as part of a change monitoring campaign. The long break for the software update will allow us to look at the same locations in a couple weeks and see if any sand has been moved by the wind.

If all goes according to plan, there won’t be a lot of rover activity over the next week, but the team will be busy poring over the latest MAHLI images of our drilling area and the chunks that were dislodged during our first mini-drill!

--Ryan is a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 870 Update: Keeping MAHLI Safe]]> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0700 by Ken Herkenhoff

This morning the MSL operations team realized that the results of the MAHLI activities planned for Sol 870 will not be received until Saturday.  Therefore, if there is a problem on Sol 870 that halts the sequence while the MAHLI dust cover is open, the cover would remain open through the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.  To eliminate the risk of such a situation and possible effects on the software upgrade planned for next week, the team decided not to send the Sol 870 command sequences to the rover.  Unfortunately, this means that the brushing and drill target investigations planned yesterday will not occur, but they can be done after the software has been upgraded. The Sol 869 activities planned yesterday will not be affected by this change, and should be completed today.

Meanwhile, many of the MAHLI self portrait images acquired on Sol 868 have been received.  When all of them have been returned to Earth, they will be assembled into the latest rover "selfie."

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sols 869-870: Broken rock]]> Wed, 14 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0700 by Ken Herkenhoff

The "mini-drill" test on the Mojave rock target completed successfully, but MAHLI images taken after the test showed that the rotary-percussive drilling fractured the rock.  This was not expected, so the tactical team had to quickly change the Sol 869-870 plan.  While we were hoping to drill a deeper hole and acquire a sample of the drill cuttings before the upgrade of the software onboard the rover next week, the rock fragments dislodged by the mini-drill activity provided a rare opportunity to examine freshly-broken surfaces.  Field geologists usually carry rock hammers so that they can break rocks and examine the fresh surfaces.  On Mars, the drill has served as MSL's rock hammer!  So the Sol 869 plan includes ChemCam measurements of the fresh chunk of rock and the bottom of the mini-drill hole, followed by MAHLI close-up images of the dislodged rocks, both during the day and at night (illuminated by the LEDs).  On Sol 870, the brush will be used to clean off another potential mini-drill target, dubbed "Funk Valley."  MAHLI images of this new target will be taken before and after the brushing, then the drill will be "preloaded" (pushed down) against Funk Valley and a potential full drill target to determine whether the rock is strong enough to safely drill.  Finally, MAHLI images will be acquired to see the results of the preload tests and the APXS will be placed on the brushed spot for an overnight integration. 

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sols 867-868: Mini-Drill at Mojave]]> Mon, 12 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0700 Crystals in Mojave

 

By Lauren Edgar

Over the weekend, Curiosity did a short drive to get into position to drill at “Mojave.”  The previously acquired MAHLI images of this target show some really interesting crystals, and we’re excited to use CheMin to figure out what minerals are present.

The main event in today’s two-sol plan is to do a mini-drill at Mojave.  Before we do a full drill deep enough to collect rock powder, we do a mini-drill in preparation.  We’ll also collect a number of MAHLI images before and after the mini-drill to characterize the drilling location.  The plan also includes some DAN observations to characterize the subsurface near this site.  Then we’ll acquire APXS of the mini-drill hole to assess the composition of the freshly exposed material.

On the second sol we will move the arm out of the way to image the hole with Mastcam, and then Curiosity will acquire a self-portrait.  We like to take these “selfies” at each of the drill hole locations to document the site, and it’s also a good way to check up on the state of the rover.  

Looking forward to more drilling on Mars!

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the MSL science team.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sols 864-866: Hello Again, Pink Cliffs!]]> Fri, 09 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0700 MAHLI image of the Mojave target near Pink Cliffs that will be drilled next week.

by Ryan Anderson

The drive toward “Pink Cliffs” went according to plan, so in the Sol 864 plan we will be doing a very short drive (called a “bump”) toward our drilling target: “Mojave” (shown above). Before the drive, ChemCam will analyze 5 locations in a line across a possible mineral vein in the rock, at a target called “Harrisburg”. This type of observation, called a “raster”, was quite common before ChemCam’s focus problems, but this will be the first time doing a 5-point raster since the focusing laser stopped working. ChemCam is still collecting images and spectra at multiple focus positions per point, to make sure we get good data.

After Harrisburg, ChemCam will also study a broken rock target called “Beers”, where it will take spectra and several stacks of images at different focus positions. This will provide good data for testing the focus, plus interesting science data from the freshly exposed portion of the broken rock. Mastcam will provide supporting images for both ChemCam observations, plus an image of a location where the rover ran over a small sand ripple, at a target called “Doughnut”. (I promise, Homer Simpson did not name our targets today!) Navcam will also do a dust devil search.

After that, the rover will drive about 10 meters to get into position for drilling, and we will take Mastcam and Navcam images of the surroundings. On Sol 865, our main activity is a measurement of methane in the atmosphere by SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars – the onboard chemistry lab).

And then on Sol 866, we have some routine atmospheric observations by ChemCam, Mastcam, and Navcam.

--Ryan is a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.]]>
<![CDATA[Sols 862-863: Goodbye Whale Rock!]]> Wed, 07 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0700 Color image of Whale Rock

by Ryan Anderson

It’s time to hit the road again! In the Sol 862-863 plan, we are wrapping things up at “Whale Rock” and then driving about 85 m toward “Pink Cliffs”, where we hope to drill sometime soon. On Sol 862, Mastcam will take a few parting shots of Whale Rock and “Western Cliffs” before we drive away. After driving, we will do our standard post-drive imaging with Navcam and Mastcam to get a good look at our surroundings.

On Sol 863, Mastcam will look at the sun to measure how much dust is in the atmosphere (this measurement is called a “tau” because that’s the symbol used in the equation that shows how much the sun’s light is attenuated). Navcam will watch for clouds above Mt. Sharp, and ChemCam will make a passive sky observation. ChemCam will also make some measurements of the on-board calibration targets.

--Ryan is a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.]]>
<![CDATA[Sols 860-861: Happy New (Earth) Year!]]> Mon, 05 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0700 Curiosity's arm analyzing the target "Sierra Nevada"

by Ryan Anderson

Happy New (Earth) Year!  

After the long holiday plans, the Curiosity team is back to planning two days at a time. The main priority for the sol 860 plan is to use MAHLI to take close-up color images of the targets “Sierra Nevada”, “Santa Ana,” and “Tecoya”. These targets were analyzed by APXS over the holidays, so it’s important to get good images to go with the chemistry.

For sol 861, ChemCam will analyze the Tecoya target, and a target called “Last Chance Canyon”. ChemCam will also take a series of images of “Newberry” to test focusing at long range. Mastcam will take color images of Newberry and Last Chance Canyon to support the ChemCam observations. The rest of Sol 861 will be Mastcam images of targets “Telescope Peak,” “Fairview Valley,” and “Gem Hill” as part of a campaign to watch for any changes in the images. Mastcam will also make a routine “clast survey” observation, where it looks at a patch of ground near the rover to study the sizes of the pebbles and rocks (collectively called “clasts”). Clast surveys are done periodically to get an idea of how the clasts change throughout the traverse.

--Ryan is a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.]]>
<![CDATA[Sols 853-859: Christmas on Mars]]> Mon, 29 Dec 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Brushed surface at Santa Ana

By Lauren Edgar


On December 19th, the MSL tactical team planned 10 sols (!) on Mars, so that everyone could take a nice break over the holidays.  That means that today we are assessing all of those sols of data, and checking out all of the “presents” that Curiosity acquired for us!   At the start of the break, Curiosity carried out some contact science on the target “Santa Ana,” which is at the base of the Whale Rock outcrop at Pahrump Hills.  Curiosity used the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) to expose a clean surface, and we acquired a nice Mastcam image of that surface.  This Navcam image shows the arm outstretched over “Santa Ana”, as well as some of the interesting textures in the rocks surrounding it (“Sierra Nevada” is the block to the right of the arm, and “Tecoya” is the long skinny block to the lower right).

Today we are planning 3 sols of targeted science, and 4 sols of REMS and associated background activities to carry us through the New Year’s holiday.  The first sol of this plan includes several ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the targets “Santa Ana,” “Peach Springs” and “Lane Mountain” to characterize their texture and composition.  The plan also includes a Navcam observation to monitor the atmosphere above Mt. Sharp.  Then Curiosity will brush the target “Tecoya” to remove the dust, and use the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) to determine its bulk chemical composition.  The second sol involves a number of environmental monitoring observations.  Curiosity will use the Navcam, Mastcam, and ChemCam passive to assess the composition of the atmosphere and search for dust devils.   We will also use Navcam to acquire a sunrise movie, as well as to look for clouds and assess the wind direction near the zenith (the point in the sky directly above the rover).  On the same sol we will move the APXS to the target “Sierra Nevada” to see how its composition compares to “Tecoya.”  The third sol will be fairly light, and consists of a Mastcam observation of the fresh surface at “Tecoya” using all of the camera filters.  The remaining sols (856-859) will consist of standard environmental monitoring, until we resume our regular planning schedule for Sol 860.

Wishing Curiosity and the MSL team a happy and healthy start to the New Year!

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the MSL science team.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 843-852: Brushing "Santa Ana"]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 00:00:00 -0700 by Ken Herkenhoff

The Sol 842 command sequences were successfully received by Curiosity, and all the data needed for planning were returned to Earth, including MAHLI images of the right front wheel. These and other data were thoroughly analyzed, and the slip risk assessment team concluded that it is safe to brush the target "Santa Ana."  So after multiple remote sensing ChemCam and Mastcam observations on Sol 843 and 844, the Dust Removal Tool will be used late in the afternoon on Sol 844. 

To give the MSL tactical team a break next week, we are planning 10 (!) sols today.  Essentially, it's a normal 3-sol weekend plan, with only REMS and associated background activities for the rest of the plan.  Because we don't want to risk leaving the MAHLI dust cover open in the unlikely event of an arm fault, no MAHLI activities are included in the plan.  So it was an easy day for me as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead; I simply suggested Mastcam 100 mm imaging of the brushed spot in lieu of the usual MAHLI documentation images.  After the Mastcam image is acquired, the APXS will be placed on Santa Ana for an overnight integration.  A full multispectral Mastcam observation (all filters, both eyes) of the brushed spot is planned just after noon on Sol 845, when the illumination will be better for measuring subtle spectral features. 

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 842: Trying again...]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:00:00 -0700 by Ken Herkenhoff

Unfortunately, the Sol 841 command sequences could not be sent to MSL because of a transmitter problem at the Deep Space Network (DSN) antenna.  This reminded me not to take for granted communications between Earth and Mars, even though such problems are rare.  Bad weather over a DSN station can prevent transmission or receipt of radio signals.  Because of such risks, every bundle of command sequences sent to the Mars rovers includes a few sols' worth of "runout" sequences.  These tell the rover what to do if new commands are not received.  So MSL is safe and healthy, but not doing much on Sol 841 besides sending more data back to Earth (through the Mars orbiters, as usual). 

As you might expect, the Sol 842 plan includes most of the observations planned for Sol 841.  But the arm activities had to be moved earlier to ensure that the MAHLI images of the right front wheel will be received on Earth in time for weekend planning on Friday.  These images should help determine whether it is safe to brush using the Dust Removal Tool.  To make room for the arm activities before the critical MRO data relay, Mastcam observations of targets dubbed "Telescope Peak," "Fairview Valley," "Gem Hill," and "Juniper Hills" were moved later, after the MRO communications pass. 

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 841: ChemCam Recovery]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 00:00:00 -0700 by Ken Herkenhoff

I was happy to see that the Sol 840 MAHLI images we planned on Monday came out nicely.  There was no MSL tactical planning yesterday, because of the offset between Mars time and Pacific time, and planning started at 6 AM PST today.  We were hoping to be able to brush off one of the Sol 840 MAHLI targets, but there is still concern about the risk of slipping off the small rock under the right front wheel during brushing.  Such slippage might damage the Dust Removal Tool, but MAHLI imaging is safe (as it was on Sol 840), so MAHLI images of "San Andreas" and "Oro Grande" are planned for Sol 841.  In addition, MAHLI images of the wheel will be acquired to better assess slip risk. 

Mastcam and ChemCam observations of various targets are also planned for Sol 841.  The ChemCam team continues to test and refine new procedures for acquiring good chemical and imaging data without using the autofocus laser, which is no longer working well.  Excellent ChemCam data are being acquired, but it takes longer without the autofocus laser.

 

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 840: High Tilt]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 00:00:00 -0700 by Ken Herkenhoff

The 5-meter drive planned for Sol 837 placed the rover near dubbed "Whale Rock" as intended.

Front Hazcam images show blocks that appear to have fallen from the outcrop and in-place bedrock patches; both can be reached by the arm instruments, so the Sol 840 plan includes MAHLI images from 25 cm standoff distance of the block and bedrock targets "San Andreas," "Tecoya," "Gem Hill" and "San Bernardino."  The arm will also be used to image the wheels and clean out CHIMRA (the sample handling equipment).

I'm SOWG Chair today, and all has gone well so far.  But, as usual, the risk of rover slip must be assessed before arm activities can be planned.  The rover is now tilted over 18 degrees, more than it has been tilted for any arm activities during the mission so far, so slip risk assessment requires more time and effort than it has in the past.  As I write this, we are still "go" for arm activities, and of course I'm hoping that won't change. 

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sols 835-836: Driving to Whale Rock]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Cross-bedding at Whale Rock

 

By Lauren Edgar

After a successful investigation of the Chinle outcrop, Curiosity is ready to move on to the Whale Rock outcrop.  Today we are planning two sols, and on the first sol we’ll finish up a few last targeted observations at Chinle.  The plan includes a ChemCam passive observation of the target Goldstone (“passive” means that we don’t fire the laser, we just passively collect the spectrum of the target), along with a Mastcam image to document the target.  We’ll also acquire a ChemCam z-stack on the target Cucumongo to test out a new template for ChemCam activities, and to look for any changes in chemistry compared to other observations at Chinle (z-stack means that we’ll acquire data from several different focus positions).  There’s also a Navcam activity to search for dust devils and monitor the atmosphere. 

After we complete our morning science observations, Curiosity will attempt a rather difficult drive toward Whale Rock.   Curiosity was last at Whale Rock on Sol 796, and captured this tantalizing image of cross-bedding.  We want to go back to Whale Rock to investigate the small-scale textures and composition of the outcrop using the instruments on the rover’s arm (MAHLI and APXS).  But in order to do that, we need to get close to the rocks, and the terrain looks quite challenging.  One way to work around the difficult approach is to sample a float rock (a block that has broken off from the main outcrop and might be in a more accessible position).  Due to the difficult terrain, it might take us a few drives to get into a good position.

After the drive we’ll acquire Navcam and Mastcam images, which we’ll use to select interesting targets and plan future drives.  On the second sol Curiosity will also acquire a Navcam observation to monitor the atmosphere above Mt. Sharp.  Fingers crossed for a good drive!

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of MSL science team.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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