Friday, August 31, 2012

Curiosity Mission in Pictures, Part 1: The Build

NASA's new rover "Curiosity" will take Mars exploration to an entirely new level of discovery, with state of the art advanced payload of scientific equipment to even a whole new landing tactics, crawling the red planet surface searching for potential habitat of "life" and the ability of the planet to have human beings living on the surface, there is no doubt the car sized rover promises a strong push to humanity's expectations.

(Up) Viking lander, Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity Compared to the new Curiosity.

(Left) The Main MSL rover, Curiosity, on May 26, 2011, in Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

(Up) Layout of the rover, showing it's primary navigation and science gadgets which gather information
for studying the climate and geology of the planet.

(Up) Another layout of the rover.

(Right) The cost of the entire project was just about $2.5bn (USD). The cost include the design, rover build, control center, and finally the launch. The total cost compared to some of the major worldwide mega projects are shown in this image.

(Up) A group watching motions of an engineering model of the camera mast for NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on March 5, 2010, includes moviemaker James Cameron (right). Cameron is a member of the camera team for the mission. Others present in the In Situ Instrument Laboratory of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are, from left, JPL Director Charles Elachi; Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist John Grotzinger; Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Pete Theisinger; and Michael Ravine of Malin Space Science Systems, the San Diego company providing the Mast Camera and two other science instruments for the mission. Source here.

(Up) A CAD model of the rover, this is what Curiosity looks like to an engineer.

(Left) Test driving the test-rover for steep hills and land features, to be prepared for the rough terrain it will encounter on the red planet.
(Right) A couple of scientists inspecting the test-rover, which build exactly the same as the main rover, it sees all the tests instead of the brand new rover that will be activated on the way to Mars, just before it's landing.
(Up) The parachute for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory passed flight-qualification testing in March and April 2009 inside the world's largest wind tunnel, at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. In this image, an engineer is dwarfed by the parachute, the largest ever built to fly on an extraterrestrial flight. It is designed to survive deployment at Mach 2.2 in the Martian atmosphere, where it will generate up to 65,000 pounds of drag force. The parachute has 80 suspension lines, measures more than 50 meters (165 feet) in length, and opens to a diameter of nearly 16 meters (51 feet). (NASA/Ames Research Center/JPL).

(Left) MSL's parachute is the main source of atmospheric drag. It's a 64.7 foot (19.7 meter) disk-gap-band style chute deployed by a mortar. The main disk is a dome-shaped canopy with a hole in the top to relieve the air pressure. A gap below the main canopy also lets air vent out to prevent the canopy from rupturing. Under the gap is a fabric band designed to increase its lateral stability by controlling the direction of incoming air.It's not easy testing this important piece of hardware on Earth since Mars' atmosphere is one percent as thick and its gravity is only a third as strong.Simulating these conditions on Earth is possible but expensive, so much so that any high altitude hypersonic tests were deemed prohibitively expensive early on in the MSL development process. So JPL engineers broke the parachute's job into stages that could be tested individually: mortar deployment, canopy inflation, inflation strength, supersonic performance, and subsonic performance. Luckily, NASA had data on high-altitude hypersonic parachute tests from the late 1960s for parachutes exactly the size of MSL's. Source here.

(Right) NASA's next Mars rover, Curiosity, takes its first, brief test drive in a Jet Propulsion Lab clean room on July 23, 2010. "It's gone from designs on napkins to PowerPoint, to CAD drawings, to blueprints, and now it's a rover," Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist, said in a NASA interview. "This is really one of the big milestones...It sort of blows your mind to look at this thing and see something that's going to be on Mars one day."
(Up) Researchers prepare for a test of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument that will fly on NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission. The instrument uses a pulsed laser beam to vaporize a pinhead-size target, producing a flash of light from the ionized material - plasma - that can be analyzed to identify chemical elements in the target. In this photo taken at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico, researchers are preparing the instrument's mast unit for a laser firing test. The ChemCam mast unit, which holds the instrument's telescopic camera as well as its laser, was later installed on the remote sensing mast of the mission's Mars rover, Curiosity. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL).

(Up) The ChemCam instrument for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission uses a pulsed laser beam to vaporize a tiny target on this mineral sample, producing a flash of light from the ionized material that can be analyzed to identify chemical elements in the target. Here, ChemCam Principal Investigator Roger Wiens, of Los Alamos National Laboratory, observes the light from a plasma ball induced by the laser hitting a sample rock from a distance of about 3 meters (10 feet). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL).

(Up) A closeup of Curiosity's "head" atop the remote sensing mast. Instruments on the mast include two science instruments for studying the rover's surroundings and two stereo navigation cameras for use in driving the rover and planning rover activities. This photo was taken April 4, 2011, inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California, For scale, the width of the white box at the top is about 0.4 meter (16 inches). The circle in the white box is the laser and telescope of an instrument named Chemistry and Camera, or ChemCam. The instrument can pulse its laser at a rock up to about 7 meters (23 feet) away and determine the rock's composition by examining the resulting spark with the telescope and spectrometers. Just below that circle is the square opening for a wide-angle camera that is paired with a telephoto camera (the smaller square opening to the left) in the rover's Mast Camera, or Mastcam, which can take high-definition, full-color video with both "eyes." Each of the two Mastcam camera heads has a wheel of filters that can be used for studying geological targets at specific visible-light and infrared wavelengths. Farther outward from each of the Mastcam cameras are circular lens openings for the rover's stereo navigation camera and its backup twin. (NASA/JPL-Caltech).

(Left) The hand lens imager is mounted on the arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on April 4, 2011. The imager will take extreme close-up pictures of the planet's rocks and soil, as well as any ice it may find there. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes).
(Right) NASA's Mars rover Curiosity ChemCam has already test fired its laser over 500 times before launch, as it studies its surroundings as engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) calibrate its sensors.
(Left) "REMS booms". Wind speed and direction will be derived based on information provided by three two-dimensional wind sensors on each of the booms. The three sensors are located 120 degrees apart around the boom axis. Each of them will record local speed and direction in the plane of the sensor. The convolution of the 12 data points will be enough to determine wind speed as well as pitch and yaw angle of each boom relative to the flow direction. The requirement is to determine horizontal wind speed with 1 m/sec accuracy in the range of 0 to 70 m/sec, with a resolution of 0.5 m/sec. The directional accuracy is expected to be better than 30 degrees. For vertical wind the range is 0 to 10 m/sec, and the accuracy and resolution are the same as for horizontal wind. Update: unfortunately one of the wind speed sensors broke somehow while landing, scientists say that the other sensor can work alone, but they will have to reconsider wind direction readings from only one "boom" which will be a bit tricky - but possible of course.

(Up) Detailed image of Curiosity's robotic arm, this tool is one of it's key systems. The 6.2-foot (1.88-m) arm has five degrees of movement and sports a formidable "hand" that weighs 73 pounds (33.11 kg). This hand is more properly referred to as a "turret" and contains a remarkable tool kit. The tools include a drill for boring into rocks and collecting powdered samples; an Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS); a sample processing subsystem called the Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA), which is a sort of glorified scoop; the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), which is a digital magnifying glass; and, the Dust Removal Tool (DRT), a kind of high-tech brush for sweeping dust off of rocks.

(Right) Diagram showing the turret-mounted devices on the end of the robotic arm: drill, brush, soil scoop, sample processing device (sieves, portioners), and the two contact science instruments, APXS and MAHLI. The devices are connected to the arm by the component shown in red on the underside of this drawing. Source.
(Left) Components of Curiosity's Sample Acquisition, Processing and Handling (SA-SPaH) subsystem and where they are located on the rover.

(Up) Preparation for one phase of testing of the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity. The testing during March 2011 in a 25-foot-diameter (7.6-meter-diameter) space-simulation chamber was designed to put the rover through operational sequences in environmental conditions similar to what it will experience on the surface of Mars. In this March 8, 2011, image, Curiosity is fully assembled with all primary flight hardware and instruments. The test chamber's door is still open. After the door is closed, a near-vacuum environment can be established, and the chamber walls flooded with liquid nitrogen for chilling to minus 130 degrees Celsius (minus 202 degrees Fahrenheit). A bank of powerful lamps simulates sunshine on Mars. The technician in the picture is using a wand to map the solar simulation intensities at different locations in the chamber just prior to the start of the testing. The space-simulation chamber is at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. (NASA/JPL-Caltech).

(Right) In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, spacecraft technicians from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory park the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission on its support base in the airlock during an MMRTG fit check on the Curiosity rover. The MMRTG will generate the power needed for the mission from the natural decay of plutonium-238, a non-weapons-grade form of the radioisotope. Heat given off by this natural decay will provide constant power through the day and night during all seasons. The 43kg MMRTG is designed to produce 125 watts of electrical power at the start of the mission, falling to about 100W after 14 years. (NASA/Kim Shiflett).

(Up) Atomic battery for deep space missions. Credit:

(Left) Curiosity gets her power from a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) supplied by the U.S. Department of Energy. This generator is essentially a nuclear battery that reliably converts heat into electricity. It consists of two major elements: a heat source that contains plutonium-238 dioxide and a set of solid-state thermocouples that convert the plutonium’s heat energy to electricity.It contains 4.8 kilograms (10.6 pounds) of plutonium dioxide as the source of the steady supply of heat used to produce the onboard electricity and to warm the rover's systems during the frigid Martian night. Curiosity's systems need to be kept warmer than -40 Celsius. Radio-isotope thermoelectric generators have enabled NASA to explore the solar system for many years. The Apollo missions to the moon, the Viking missions to Mars, and the Pioneer, Voyager, Ulysses, Galileo, Cassini and New Horizons missions to the outer solar system all used radioisotope thermoelectric generators. The multimission radioisotope thermoelectric generator is a new generation designed to operate on planetary bodies with an atmosphere, such as Mars, as well as in the vacuum of space. In addition, it is a more flexible modular design capable of meeting the needs of a wider variety of missions as it generates electrical power in smaller increments, slightly more than 110 watts. The design goals for the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator include ensuring a high degree of safety,optimizing power levels over a minimum lifetime of 14 years, and minimizing weight.

Every 26 months there is an opportunity to send a vehicle from Earth to the planet Mars along an efficient, low-energy trajectory. The trip can take six months or more. Probes to Mars often fail; as of July 2012, the success rate was 47 percent. The Soviet Union was first to attempt to send unmanned space probes to Mars. Several failed, but in 1971 the lander Mars 2 became the first object from Earth to reach the surface of the Red Planet. Unfortunately Mars 2 crashed rather than landing softly. Its sister probe, Mars 3, did manage to land on Dec. 2, 1971. The Mars 3 lander transmitted data for a few seconds before falling silent. The first truly successful Mars surface probes were the Viking 1 and 2 landers, sent from the United States, which touched down in 1976. The landers gathered soil samples for analysis using their robotic arms, and they thoroughly photographed the area surrounding their landing sites. Another milestone was reached in 1997, when the Mars Pathfinder was landed by the United States. Pathfinder released a tiny remote-controlled rover, called Sojourner, which explored the Martian surface for nearly three months before contact was lost. Credit:

End of Part 1..
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