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 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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<![CDATA[Sol 833-834: New Results From The Murray Formation]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Simulated view of Gale crater lake

By Ryan Anderson

The main excitement today was that, as the team was busy planning for sols 833 and 834, NASA held a press conference to share some of the results of our recent investigations in the Murray formation, in the foothills of Mt. Sharp. The layered rocks that we have been observing tell the story of a series of shallow lakes with small deltas formed by sediment deposited from the crater rim. Check out the press release for more details!

In the Sol 833-834 plan, we are planning to do three ChemCam “Z-stack” observations of the target “Vaqueros” which looks like it might be a white mineral-filled vein. Z-stack observations are when the instrument collects data from the same location at several different focus positions. We are planning Z-stacks with ChemCam’s black-and-white camera and the main spectroscopy laser to make sure that we get good data from the target, and to collect information to develop new focusing methods for ChemCam.

Later on sol 833, the high-resolution color camera on the arm (MAHLI – Mars Hand Lens Imager) will collect some images of the fine details of the layers in the Chinle outcrop, at targets called “Coachella” and “Tropico”. Then we will measure the chemical composition of Tropico with the APXS (Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectroscopy) instrument on the arm.

On Sol 834, Navcam (the black and white Navigation cameras) and Mastcam (the mast-mounted color science cameras) will take some atmospheric observations to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere.

--Ryan is a planetary scientist and developer 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 830-832: Investigating the Chinle Outcrop]]> Fri, 05 Dec 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Well it was an exciting day for space exploration!  As we were working operations this morning many space enthusiasts on the team were keeping tabs on the launch and splashdown of the Orion capsule – the new spacecraft that might someday take astronauts to Mars.  It was fun to think about future human exploration on Mars as we were putting together our rover plan for the day.  It was also great to have all three USGS bloggers working together today.  I was on duty as the Geology and Mineralogy Science Theme Lead and Ryan was the Keeper of the Plan, so collectively we assembled the geology tasks that Curiosity will carry out over the weekend (Sols 830-832).  Ken was the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) Payload Uplink Lead today, meaning that he was responsible for the details of all of the MAHLI activities (figuring out the right pointing, standoff distance, priorities etc. to get good high-resolution images using the camera on the end of the rover’s arm).  And we certainly gave Ken a lot of work to do today!  The plan includes contact science (using the instruments on the rover’s arm) on the targets “Pickhandle” and “Goldstone” to characterize the lower and middle parts of the Chinle outcrop.  First we’ll use the Dust Removal Tool to clean off a fresh surface at “Goldstone” (we cleaned off “Pickhandle in the Sol 828 plan).  This MAHLI image from Sol 828 shows “Goldstone” before brushing.  Then we’ll acquire several MAHLI images on each target, taken at different distances and offsets to get both context and stereo imaging.  Then we’ll place the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) on “Goldstone” to figure out the bulk chemical composition.   On the third sol of the weekend plan, we’ll move the arm out of the way and use ChemCam and Mastcam to characterize the targets that we brushed.  The plan also includes some extra Mastcam imaging to make a nice mosaic of the outcrop, several observations of the ChemCam calibration targets, and a Navcam observation to monitor the atmosphere above Mount Sharp.  I love these days when we get to use so many different instruments to characterize a place on Mars!

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 828-829: Looking Closer at the Chinle Outcrop]]> Wed, 03 Dec 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Navcam view of the Chinle outcrop

By Ryan Anderson

Today all three USGS bloggers were on MSL operations! I was on duty as the Science Payload Downlink Lead (sPDL) for ChemCam, meaning that it was my job to check all of the science data that we received to make sure the data looks good and to do a quick analysis of the results. Lauren was the Keeper of the Plan (KOP) for the geology theme group, meaning that she helped put together the plan of geology tasks that the rover will do in the Sol 828-829 plan (a sol is a Mars day). And Ken was the Science Operations Working Group (SOWG) chair, meaning that he led the SOWG meeting and made sure that the plan satisfied the goals of the science team while also staying within the constraints on power, data, safety, complexity, etc.

This morning was a little more “exciting” than normal because bad weather on Earth caused a disruption in our downlink of data from Mars, so for a little while it looked like we would not have any of the images from the end of the drive to help us plan sols 828-829. (We can’t do much if we don’t know what the rover’s surroundings look like!) It also meant that our ChemCam data was missing. But in the end, the data did arrive so that I could assess the ChemCam data and planning could proceed.

On sol 828, ChemCam will do a passive observation of the sky to measure the abundance of different molecules in the atmosphere, and Navcam (the navigation cameras) will take a movie to watch for clouds forming over Mt. Sharp. Also in the morning block, Mastcam has a mosaic of the “Chinle” outcrop to look at the fine-scale layering.

Later on the same sol, there are a series of observations of Chinle by MAHLI (the Mars Hand Lens Imager – a close-up, high-resolution color camera). These observations will look at the layers in Chinle from a different angle and at a higher resolution than is possible with the mast cameras. While the arm is out, we will also brush off the target “Pickhandle” on Chinle using the Dust Removal Tool (DRT).

On Sol 829, Mastcam will do a routine “clast survey” observation to characterize the loose rocks near the rover, and ChemCam will run a diagnostic test of the focusing laser that has been acting up recently.

 

-Ryan Anderson is a planetary scientist and developer 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 826-827: Update on Curiosity from Ken Herkenhoff: Drive to Chinle]]> Mon, 01 Dec 2014 00:00:00 -0700 The activities planned for the Thanksgiving holiday went well, and the data received so far look good, including MAHLI images showing the brushed target "Puente."  So we are ready to move on, and the Sol 826 plan includes a few ChemCam and Mastcam observations before a drive to the "Chinle" area.  We were also able to squeeze another MAHLI image of the APXS calibration target into the plan, to look for possible changes in dust on the target caused by the long overnight APXS integration on Sols 825-6.  Planning is "restricted" again this week because of the offset between Mars time and Pacific Standard Time, so we are planning two sols today.  We can plan only untargeted remote sensing observations on Sol 827 because of the drive on the previous sol, as we won't know the rover position precisely until Wednesday.  I'm SOWG Chair today, and it has been a fairly easy day for me so far. 

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 823-825: Brushing off the dust at Alexander Hills]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 While everyone is recovering from their Thanksgiving meals, Curiosity will be feasting on some exciting science targets at the Alexander Hills!  We are on our second pass at the Pahrump Hills, and on this pass we are using the instruments on the robotic arm to investigate several key outcrops in more detail.   This weekend we’re focusing on the Alexander Hills.  In the previous plan we used the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) to brush off the dust at a target named “Mescal” to expose a fresh surface.  This Navcam image from Sol 819 shows the arm extended while investigating “Mescal.”  Over the weekend 3-sol plan, we’ll use the ChemCam instrument to learn about the composition of the targets “Mescal” and “Horned Toad,” and we’ll also acquire some Mastcam images to document those targets.  Then we’ll use the DRT to brush off the dust at “Puente.”  Once we have a clean surface, we can use the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to acquire high-resolution images to study the exposed sedimentary structures and grain sizes.  After that we’ll use the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) to figure out the bulk chemical composition of “Puente.”  The plan also includes some Navcam observations to monitor the atmosphere above Mt. Sharp and search for dust devils.  As the MSL team takes a break over the Thanksgiving holiday, I know that we’ll all be thankful for our healthy rover doing some really great science on Mars!

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 820-822 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Lauren Edgar: Investigating Alexander Hills]]> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Curiosity is currently investigating the Alexander Hills outcrop.  This Mastcam mosaic from Sol 817 shows some of the interesting rock textures that we’ll study at this location.  With Thanksgiving coming up, the operations team is putting together several multi-sol plans so that the team can take a break over the holiday.  That means that today we’ll plan Sols 820-822, and tomorrow we’ll plan Sols 823-825 to take us through the weekend.  On Sol 820 Curiosity will perform several ChemCam tests to develop ways to focus without using the autofocus laser.  We will also take Mastcam images to document the ChemCam targets, and a Mastcam tau measurement to monitor atmospheric opacity.  On Sol 821 Curiosity will acquire a Mastcam mosaic of the Gilbert Peak and Chinle outcrops, and a Navcam movie to monitor the atmosphere and search for clouds.  The plan also includes ChemCam RMI SkyFlats to measure the “flat field” which will improve our processing of RMI images.  The third sol includes a Mastcam observation of the brushed target “Mescal” using all of the camera filters.  That should keep Curiosity busy while the team takes a well-deserved break! 

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 819 Update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Late planning]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 The difficult 35-meter drive planned for Sol 817 went perfectly, placing the rover in position for arm activities on the Alexander Hills outcrop.  We also received good news from ChemCam:  test images acquired on Sol 816 showed that the instrument can still acquire data without using the autofocus laser.  More ChemCam tests were planned today.  Sol 819 planning started 3 hours later than usual, giving me extra time to prepare for my MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead shift this morning.  We had lots of interesting rocks to choose from, and decided to brush a target dubbed "Mescal."  After taking MAHLI images, the APXS will be placed on the same target for a long overnight integration to measure its elemental chemistry.  We also planned MAHLI images of targets "Puente" and "Cajon," as well as Mastcam mosaics including these and other targets of interest.

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 816-818 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Lauren Edgar: Leaving Book Cliffs]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Curiosity's are extended to analyze Topanga

Over the weekend 3-sol plan, Curiosity will wrap up the investigation at Book Cliffs and drive toward Alexander Hills and Carnivore Canyon.   It’s been a great week at Book Cliffs, and Curiosity acquired a lot of exciting data.  We analyzed 3 fresh surfaces at Book Cliffs, at the lower, middle and upper parts of the outcrop.  This Navcam image from Sol 815 shows the arm extended while Curiosity was investigating the target “Topanga”.  The brush spots at “Punchbowl” and “Afton Canyon” are also visible at the bottom middle and lower right sides of the image.  In the weekend plan, Curiosity will acquire Mastcam multispectral images and ChemCam passive observations of the three brush spots.  There are also several Navcam and ChemCam activities to monitor the atmosphere and search for clouds.  Then Curiosity will drive toward Alexander Hills and Carnivore Canyon, and acquire standard post-drive imaging to prepare for contact science next week!

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 815 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Lauren Edgar: Another busy day at Book Cliffs]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Over the past few sols Curiosity has been investigating the Book Cliffs outcrop at the Pahrump Hills.   On Sol 814, Curiosity brushed off the dust at “Afton Canyon” as seen in this MAHLI image.  Today’s plan is focused on characterizing the upper part of Book Cliffs.  ChemCam is back in action after a brief stand down due to degradation of the instrument’s smaller laser used for focusing.  The plan today includes a ChemCam passive observation of the sky and a focus test on a small pebble.  We will also use the Dust Removal Tool to clear off a fresh surface at the target “Topanga” followed by MAHLI and APXS on that surface.  We’re also planning to acquire MAHLI images on the targets “Goblin_Valley” and “Jail_Canyon.”  Another busy day on Mars!  We’ve been delivering some pretty complicated plans lately, but thanks to a very talented operations team, everything is going well and the data looks great.

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 814 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Lauren Edgar: More Contact Science at Book Cliffs]]> Wed, 19 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Curiosity is still investigating the Book Cliffs outcrop on our second pass at the Pahrump Hills.   To learn more about Curiosity’s activities at the Pahrump Hills, check out this recent press release.  I’m on duty as the Geology and Mineralogy Science Theme Lead again today.  It turns out that I was also on duty when we were at Book Cliffs on the first pass, so it’s starting to feel a little like Groundhog Day.  But it’s an interesting outcrop, and we’ve been able to acquire a lot of great data here.  Yesterday we analyzed the lower part of the outcrop (as seen in this Front Hazcam image), and today is focused on the middle part of the outcrop.  We will use the Dust Removal Tool to clear off a fresh surface at a target named “Afton Canyon,” and then we’ll use MAHLI and APXS to study the sedimentary structures and chemistry.  We’re also planning what we call a “dog’s eye mosaic” of the target “Anaverde,” meaning that we’ll acquire a series of MAHLI images across a vertical face – sticking our nose right in there to get a good view.  In this plan Curiosity will also image part of upper Book Cliffs at the target “Topanga” to prepare for DRT placement on that area tomorrow.

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 813 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Lauren Edgar: Brushing off the dust at Book Cliffs]]> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 After a successful drive on Sol 812, Curiosity is well positioned for contact science at the Book Cliffs outcrop.  We’ve been taking some really interesting MAHLI images lately, including this one from Sol 810 of the target “Potatoe).  The plan today is to use the Dust Removal Tool to clear off a fresh surface at the lower part of Book Cliffs (at a target named “Punchbowl”), and then characterize the cleared surface using the MAHLI and APXS instruments.  We’ll acquire MAHLI images under different lighting conditions to study the rock textures, and APXS will provide information about the bulk chemical composition of the target.  We’ll also acquire MAHLI images of the target “Old Dad Mountain,” which is a slightly more resistant part of the lower outcrop.  The plan also includes imaging to prepare for possible contact science on the upper part of Book Cliffs, and a Navcam observation to monitor atmospheric activity above Mount Sharp.  Looking forward to more contact science tomorrow!

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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