Mars - Rover Curiosity
Posted 30 August 2012 - 12:27:39
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Posted 30 August 2012 - 14:53:00
Edited by Vapad, 30 August 2012 - 14:53:14.
Posted 06 December 2012 - 08:09:27
NASA unveils new Mars rover mission for 2020
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: December 4, 2012
Updated @ 08:55 p.m. EST by adding Grunsfeld comments; details
In an ongoing effort to restructure its Mars exploration program in the wake of deep budget cuts announced earlier this year, NASA announced plans Tuesday to send a new $1.5 billion rover to the red planet in 2020 based on the design of the agency's hugely successful Curiosity.
The Curiosity rover, on the move in Gale Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The as-yet-unnamed rover is the second new Mars mission announced in the wake of the budget cuts that will be built using already-existing designs, a money-saving architecture agency officials say is more in line with current funding reality.
"The challenge to restructure the Mars Exploration Program has turned from the seven minutes of terror for the Curiosity landing to the start of seven years of innovation," John Grunsfeld, NASA's science chief, said in a statement.
He was referring to Curiosity's innovative rocket-powered "sky crane" descent system that successfully lowered the nuclear-powered rover to the surface of Mars Aug. 6 after a nail-biting seven-minute plunge from space.
"This mission concept fits within the current and projected Mars exploration budget, builds on the exciting discoveries of Curiosity, and takes advantage of a favorable launch opportunity," Grunsfeld said after announcing the new mission at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco.
In a briefing later Tuesday, Grunsfeld told reporters the availability of spare parts from Curiosity's development, including a backup nuclear generator, made the 2020 rover possible in the current budget environment. Equally, if not more important, he said, was the engineering expertise that got Curiosity to Mars.
"It's the availability of the spare parts but also the people and the engineering that went into building Curiosity that we still have," he said. "This whole team ... is still together and we're going to leverage that to build on the Mars 2020 rover. ... That's what enables us to do the whole plan within the current budget."
The Obama administration's fiscal 2013 budget request called for a 20 percent reduction in NASA's planetary exploration budget with most of the cutbacks coming from the Mars program. Additional reductions are expected in later years.
As a result, NASA pulled out of two planned Mars missions that would have been conducted jointly with the European Space Agency in 2016 and 2018. At that time, no other "flagship" planetary missions like Curiosity's were in development.
Amid vocal criticism from some quarters of the scientific community, NASA began considering alternative approaches and mission scenarios.
In August, just two weeks after Curiosity's touchdown, NASA announced that it would launch a relatively low-cost Mars lander in 2016 that will make a rocket-powered descent to the surface to study whether the red planet's core is solid or liquid and whether the planet has tectonic plates that slowly move like Earth's continents.
Called InSight, for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, the new spacecraft will be based on the design of NASA's successful Phoenix probe, a traditional solar-powered legged lander that touched down near the north polar cap of of the red planet in May 2008.
InSight will be equipped with a robotic arm, along with two black-and-white cameras and a geodetic instrument provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., to measure the planet's rotation axis. As a so-called Discovery-class mission, the cost is capped at $425 million, excluding the price of the launcher.
The new rover announced Tuesday, along with the rocket needed to boost it to Mars, will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion, plus or minus $200 million, according to a rough estimate by the Aerospace Corp.
The Curiosity rover, the centerpiece of the Mars Science Laboratory mission, cost some $2.5 billion over a decade of development. But the new rover will not require the same development of new systems and technologies, Grunsfeld said, which will make it easier for NASA to control costs.
Grunsfeld said the revised Mars program offers significant science that will keep NASA at the forefront of planetary exploration.
Along with its currently operational spacecraft and instruments -- the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers, two operational Mars orbiters and components aboard an ESA orbiter -- the agency's revised Mars program now includes:
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution -- MAVEN -- orbiter, scheduled for launch in 2013
Communications gear for ESA's Trace Gas Explorer mission in 2016 and components for an astrobiology instrument in ESA's ExoMars rover mission in 2018
The InSight mission, scheduled for launch in 2016
The new rover, which will take off in 2020.
"We've got lots of budget issues," Grunsfeld told reporters. "We're still in a continuing resolution for fiscal year '13, there are questions of sequestration. The administration is still considering our input to the FY '14 budget process.
"But all of these things that we've shown here fit within the president's budget request for fiscal year '13. ... I think it's a signal that folks really care, the administration, the Congress, the public, care about Mars exploration. So we're going to move forward on this pretty rapidly."
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) endorsed the new rover mission, saying in a statement "an upgraded rover with additional instrumentation and capabilities is a logical next step that builds upon now proven landing and surface operations systems."
But he wants NASA to move up the launch date to 2018.
"While a 2020 launch would be favorable due to the alignment of Earth and Mars, a launch in 2018 would be even more advantageous as it would allow for an even greater payload to be launched to Mars," he said. "I will be working with NASA, the White House and my colleagues in Congress to see whether advancing the launch date is possible and what it would entail."
Grunsfeld, however, cautioned that "2020 is ambitious, and a lot of it has to do with the science instrument development. ... It might be possible to do it in 2018, but it would be a push. What it might do is exclude certain science investigations that might be possible if we had the extra two years. That's something downstream."
Posted 08 December 2012 - 21:04:19
Posted 08 December 2012 - 21:27:09
Posted 08 December 2012 - 21:51:07
Edited by Arkadija, 08 December 2012 - 21:51:22.
Posted 13 December 2012 - 08:03:31
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: December 9, 2012
NASA's Opportunity mission, laboring halfway around Mars from the headline-stealing Curiosity rover, is giving geologists their first up-close glimpse of Martian clays, leftovers from an ancient watery environment on the red planet.
Opportunity captured this view of its own late afternoon shadow at Endeavour Crater on Aug. 23, 2012. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Following a signature detected remotely from a satellite orbiting Mars, Opportunity traversed an expansive plain to Endeavour Crater, where there is evidence of clay-bearing minerals. The material could have only formed when Mars was warmer and wetter, according to scientists.
"Clays are tremendsouly important on Mars," said Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the Opportunity rover. "Clays form in a watery environment. That's important, but even more important is clay will only form in kind of a neutral pH - water that's not acid."
NASA's Curiosity rover, a larger, more capable robot than Opportunity, was dispatched to Gale Crater to pursue a signature of clays detected there. But scientists do not expect Curiosity to reach the 'sweet spot' for clays in Gale Crater until some time next year.
Although it is not equipped with the same advanced instrumentation as Curiosity, the Opportunity rover is giving researchers their first long-sought ground truth on clay minerals.
Since landing in January 2004, Opportunity has explored an array of geologic features, rocks and soil rife with signs of water in an earlier period on Mars. But scientists say clues found by Opportunity so far point to acidic conditions hostile to life.
Clay minerals pinpointed on the edge of Endeavour Crater by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are much older than the surrounding unit of sandstones.
"The thing that's different here is that these clay minerals point towards a neutral chemistry - water you could drink," Squyres said last week at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco. "It's particularly interesting to me that it correlates with the oldest stuff that we've seen on Mars. It seems that these more suitable water chemistries, the evidence for those, are concentrated in the oldest materials on Mars. This is our first glimpse ever at conditions on ancient Mars that clearly show us a chemistry that would have been suitable for life at the Opportunity site."
After the science team decided on Endeavour as Opportunity's next destination, the rover drove 13 miles over three years to reach the crater.
Controllers have driven Opportunity more than 22 miles, stopping at several craters, examining rock outcrops and collecting millions of measurements to characterize its landing site at Meridiani Planum, a dusty plain pockmarked with impact sites.
But Endeavour Crater, spanning 14 miles across, is the largest crater visited by Opportunity.
"Endeavour is fundamentally different from every other crater we've looked at with Opportunity," Squyres said. "For one thing, it's big - 22 kilometers in diameter is much larger than anything we've looked at before. But more importantly, it's old."
Scientists estimate the crater was formed 3 billion years ago, scouring a deep basin and exposing older material around its edges.
A team led by Ray Arvidson, Opportunity's deputy principal investigator, refined data from MRO to find the exact locations where the clay minerals were deposited along the crater's edges, according to Squyres, a professor at Cornell University.
Opportunity is now at one of the clay sites - a feature scientists call Matijevic Hill, named for the late Jacob Matijevic, who led the engineering team for Opportunity and its twin rover Spirit for several years.
This false-color image of a light-toned clay-bearing rock named Whitewater Lake was taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera on Sept. 6, 2012. Whitewater Lake is the large flat rock in the top half of the image. From left to right, it is about 30 inches (0.8 meter) across. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Cornell University/Arizona State University
The rover drove in a circular pattern around the hill in October and November, surveying rocks and identifying features for follow-up observations. It found an array of flat-lying, light-toned material interspersed with outcrops of tougher, darker rock.
Squyres, who has led the rover science team for more than a decade, called the Matijevic Hill site "one of the most delightful geologic puzzles that we have ever found with this rover on Mars."
Scientists say the flat-lying material, which looks to be composed of fine grains, is remarkably soft and is made up of elements common on Mars.
"This has got to be the clay-bearing stuff," Squyres said of the light-toned rock type, which has been dubbed Whitewater Lake.
But scientists were in for a surprise when Opportunity's microscopic camera looked at a fin-like protrusion rising above the Whitewater Lake material.
The images revealed a cluster of spherical objects embedded in the rock, and Squyres said scientists are puzzled about their origin. Earlier in its mission, Opportunity discovered similar iron-rich deposits nicknamed blueberries, which were made of a mineral known as hematite.
But the tiny spheres, each about the size of a BB, at Matijevic Hill are not made of hematite.
"I've been calling them 'newberries' because they're something new, and I don't know what they are," Squyres said.
Opportunity's microscopic imager discovered 'newberries' in a rock formation at Matijevic Hill. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University/USGS/Modesto Junior College
They could be concretions of a different mineral, residue from an ancient faraway asteroid or comet impact, a byproduct of volcanic activity, or something else, scientists said.
The rover will spend at least the first few months of 2013 analyzing the clays and 'newberries' at Matijevic Hill. According to Squyres, the science team wants to learn the origin and constrain the age of the soft light-colored clay-bearing rock prevalent at the site and whether it was deposited by water, wind or a violent process such as an asteroid strike.
"Clearly, this is a place where water was present," Squyres said. "The clay mineral signal clearly says that. Clearly, this is very ancient. The processes are something we're still working out, so rather than guessing, we're going to do the geology."
The examination will require many observations using Opportunity's X-ray spectrometer, an instrument designed to discern the elemental composition of rocks and soil.
"You can't look at the newberries and the clays independently," Squyres said. "One is embedded in the other. Their stories are woven together."
Diana Blaney, Opportunity deputy project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the rover's microscopic imager, rock grinding tool, and cameras are all in good shape after nearly 9 years on Mars.
Opportunity and Spirit were designed for 90-day missions after landing. Spirit last communicated with Earth in March 2010.
"Against all odds, this rover is still operating after 9 years, and we have fortuitously just run up against what I think is one of the most interesting, most challenging, most subtle geologic problems that we've encountered the entire mission," Squyres said.
Posted 08 March 2013 - 15:41:15
Fri, Mar 8th, 2013, 5:44:36 AM GMT+0100
The briefing, at NASA Headquarters in Washington, will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency's website.
Edited by historian, 08 March 2013 - 15:42:02.