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Posts tagged ‘Rovers’

A Rover for Phobos and Deimos

Le Bourget, France (SPX)

Jun 21, 2019

Mars has two small moons, Phobos and Deimos. These are the target of the Japanese Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission, which also involves international partners. Scheduled for launch in 2024. it will enter Mars orbit in 2025, and return samples to Earth in 2029. The spacecraft will carry a German-French rover that will land on either Phobos or Deimos and explore the surface in detail for several months.

The scientists hope to gain new insights into the formation and evolution of the solar system. At the International Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), the Japanese space agency JAXA and the French space agency CNES agreed to further collaborate on the world’s first exploration of a minor solar system body with a rover.

“The world-first exploration of the Martian moons with a rover is a major technical challenge that we are tackling within the framework of our strong and proven partnership with Japan and France,” says Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board. “Together, we want to push the boundaries of what is technically feasible in robotic exploration and expand our knowledge about the origin of the solar system.”

On 18 June 2019, Hansjorg Dittus, DLR Executive Board Member for Space Research and Technology, Walther Pelzer, the DLR Executive Board Member responsible for the Space Administration, and Hitoshi Kuninaka, Director General of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) at JAXA, signed a cooperation agreement outlining DLR’s participation in the Japanese-led MMX mission. The contributions that the Franco-German rover will make to the mission are central to this agreement.

In addition, DLR is making scientific findings about Deimos and Phobos available in preparation for the mission and is enabling tests to be conducted at DLR’s Landing and Mobility Test Facility (LAMA) and in the drop tower at the Centre of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) in Bremen.

On 19 June 2019, the Franco-German cooperation agreement for the development of the rover as part of the MMX mission was signed by Pascale Ehrenfreund, Hansjorg Dittus and CNES President Jean-Yves le Gall. The German-French rover will be designed and built as a joint effort.

DLR will, in particular, be responsible for developing the rover’s casing and its robotic locomotion system, together with a spectrometer and a radiometer that will both be used to determine the characteristics and composition of the surface.

The French space agency CNES is making major contributions with camera systems for spatial orientation and exploration of the surface, as well as the rover’s central service module. Upon landing, the rover will then be operated jointly by CNES and DLR.

The MMX mission follows in the footsteps of the successful predecessor mission Hayabusa2, which explored the asteroid Ryugu. As part of the mission, on 3 October 2018, the Mobile Asteroid and Surface Scout (MASCOT) lander ‘hopped’ across the asteroid’s surface and sent spectacular images of a landscape strewn with boulders, stones and almost no dust back to Earth. On that same day, JAXA, DLR and CNES signed a first memorandum of understanding for cooperation within the MMX mission.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/A_Rover_for_Phobos_and_Deimos_999.html.

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NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is put to the test

Pasadena CA (JPL)

Mar 20, 2019

In a little more than seven minutes in the early afternoon of Feb. 18, 2021, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will execute about 27,000 actions and calculations as it speeds through the hazardous transition from the edge of space to Mars’ Jezero Crater. While that will be the first time the wheels of the 2,314-pound (1,050-kilogram) rover touch the Red Planet, the vehicle’s network of processors, sensors and transmitters will, by then, have successfully simulated touchdown at Jezero many times before.

“We first landed on Jezero Crater on Jan. 23rd,” said Heather Bottom, systems engineer for the Mars 2020 mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “And the rover successfully landed again on Mars two days later.”

Bottom was the test lead for Systems Test 1, or ST1, the Mars 2020 engineering team’s first opportunity to take the major components of the Mars 2020 mission for a test drive. Over two weeks in January, Bottom and 71 other engineers and technicians assigned to the 2020 mission took over the High Bay 1 cleanroom in JPL’s Spacecraft Assembly Facility to put the software and electrical systems aboard the mission’s cruise, entry capsule, descent stage and rover through their paces.

“ST1 was a massive undertaking,” said Bottom. “It was our first chance to exercise the flight software we will fly on 2020 with the actual spacecraft components that will be heading to Mars – and make sure they not only operate as expected, but also interact with each other as expected.”

The heritage for Mars 2020’s software goes back to the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) and the Curiosity rover that has been exploring Mars’ Gale Crater since 2012. But 2020 is a different mission with a different rover, a different set of science instruments and a different destination on Mars. Its software has to be tailored accordingly.

Work began in earnest on the flight software in 2013. It was coded, recoded, analyzed and tested on computer workstations and laptops. Later, the flight software matriculated to spacecraft testbeds where it was exposed to computers, sensors and other electronic components customized to imitate the flight hardware that will launch with the mission in 2020.

“Virtual workstations and testbeds are an important part of the process,” said Bottom. “But the tens of thousands of individual components that make up the electronics of this mission are not all going to act, or react, exactly like a testbed. Seeing the flight software and the actual flight hardware working together is the best way to build confidence in our processes. Test like you fly.”

Making the Grade

On the day before ST1 began, the High Bay 1 cleanroom was hopping with “bunny suit”-clad engineers and technicians assembling, inspecting and testing the mission’s hardware. The next day, Wednesday, Jan. 16, the room was eerily quiet. The majority of workers had been replaced by two technicians there to monitor the flight test hardware.

Lines of electrical cabling – “umbilicals” – were added to provide data and power to the spacecraft’s cruise stage, back shell, descent stage and rover chassis, which have yet to be stacked together. The ground to in-flight spacecraft (and in-flight spacecraft to ground) communications were handled by X-band radio transmission, just like they would be during the trip to Mars.

ST1 began with commands to energize the spacecraft’s electrical components and set up thermal, power and telecom configurations. While all the spacecraft components remained in the cleanroom, Bottom and her team had them thinking they were sitting on top of an Atlas 541 rocket 190 feet (58 meters) above Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral on July 17, 2020, waiting to be shot into space.

Next, they focused on another part of cruise before testing the landing sequence. Then they did it all over again.

After a successful launch, they time jumped 40 days ahead to simulate deep space cruise. How would the software and hardware interact when they had to perform navigation fixes and trajectory correction maneuvers? And how would they work when simulated events didn’t go as planned? The team looked for answers on the operators’ computer screens in the test operations room beside the cleanroom.

“From the test operations room, you could look out the windows onto the cleanroom floor and clearly see the flight hardware,” said Bottom.

“Nothing was visibly moving, but underneath the outer structure, there were flight computers swapping sides, radios sending and receiving transmissions, fuel valves moving in and out, subsystems being energized and later turned off, and electrical signals being sent to nonexistent pyrotechnic devices. There was a lot going on in there.”

On Jan. 30, the Mars 2020 test team was able to close their 1,000-plus page book of procedures for ST1. They went two-for-two on Mars landings. They also launched four times, performed deep space navigation, executed several trajectory correction maneuvers and even tested a few in-flight off-nominal situations.

This first evaluation of flight hardware and software, over a year in the making, had been a thorough success, demonstrating where things excelled and where they could be improved. When these new changes have been investigated on both a virtual workstation and in the testbed, they will have their chance to “fly” in one of the many other systems tests planned for Mars 2020.

“One of the future scenario tests will place the rover inside a thermal chamber and simulate being on the surface. It will step through mission critical activities at some very low Mars surface temperatures,” said Bottom. “Both literally and figuratively it will be a very cool test.”

The Mars 2020 Project at JPL manages rover development for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management. Mars 2020 will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/NASAs_Mars_2020_Rover_Is_Put_to_the_Test_999.html.

Opportunity’s parting shot was a beautiful panorama

Pasadena CA (JPL)

Mar 13, 2019

Over 29 days last spring, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity documented this 360-degree panorama from multiple images taken at what would become its final resting spot in Perseverance Valley. Located on the inner slope of the western rim of Endurance Crater, Perseverance Valley is a system of shallow troughs descending eastward about the length of two football fields from the crest of Endeavor’s rim to its floor.

“This final panorama embodies what made our Opportunity rover such a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery,” said Opportunity project manager John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“To the right of center you can see the rim of Endeavor Crater rising in the distance. Just to the left of that, rover tracks begin their descent from over the horizon and weave their way down to geologic features that our scientists wanted to examine up close. And to the far right and left are the bottom of Perseverance Valley and the floor of Endeavour crater, pristine and unexplored, waiting for visits from future explorers.”

The trailblazing mission ended after nearly 15 years of exploring the surface of Mars, but its legacy will live on. Opportunity’s scientific discoveries contributed to our unprecedented understanding of the planet’s geology and environment, laying the groundwork for future robotic and human missions to the Red Planet.

The panorama is composed of 354 individual images provided by the rover’s Panoramic Camera (Pancam) from May 13 through June 10, or sols (Martian days) 5,084 through 5,111. This view combines images taken through three different Pancam filters. The filters admit light centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near-infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet).

A few frames (bottom left) remain black and white, as the solar-powered rover did not have the time to record those locations using the green and violet filters before a severe Mars-wide dust storm swept in on June 2018.

The gallery includes the last images Opportunity obtained during its mission (black-and-white thumbnail images from the Pancam that were used to determine how opaque the sky was on its last day) and also the last piece of data the rover transmitted (a “noisy,” incomplete full-frame image of a darkened sky).

After eight months of effort and sending more than a thousand commands in an attempt to restore contact with the rover, NASA declared Opportunity’s mission complete on Feb. 13, 2019.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Opportunitys_Parting_Shot_Was_a_Beautiful_Panorama_999.html.

NASA announces demise of Opportunity rover

By Ivan Couronne

Washington (AFP)

Feb 14, 2019

During 14 years of intrepid exploration across Mars, it advanced human knowledge by confirming that water once flowed on the red planet — but NASA’s Opportunity rover has analyzed its last soil sample.

The robot has been missing since the US space agency lost contact during a dust storm in June last year and was declared officially dead Wednesday, ending one of the most fruitful missions in the history of space exploration.

Unable to recharge its batteries, Opportunity left hundreds of messages from Earth unanswered over the months, and NASA said it made its last attempt at contact Tuesday evening.

“I declare the Opportunity mission as complete,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate told a news conference at mission headquarters in Pasadena, California.

The community of researchers and engineers involved in the program were in mourning over the passing of the rover, known affectionately as Oppy.

“It is a hard day,” said John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover project.

“Even though it is a machine and we’re saying goodbye, it’s very hard and it’s very poignant.”

“Don’t be sad it’s over, be proud it taught us so much,” former president Barack Obama tweeted later on Thursday.

“Congrats to all the men and women of @NASA on a @MarsRovers mission that beat all expectations, inspired a new generation of Americans, and demands we keep investing in science that pushes the boundaries of human knowledge.”

The nostalgia extended across the generations of scientists who have handled the plucky little adventurer.

“Godspeed, Opportunity,” tweeted Keri Bean, who had the “privilege” of sending the final message to the robot.

“Hail to the Queen of Mars,” added Mike Seibert, Opportunity’s former flight director and rover driver in another tweet, while Frank Hartman, who piloted Oppy, told AFP he felt “greatly honored to have been a small part of it.”

“Engulfed by a giant planet-encircling dust storm: Is there a more fitting end for a mission as perfect and courageous from start to finish as Opportunity?” he said.

The program has had an extraordinary record of success: 28.1 miles (45.2 kilometers) traversed, more than the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 moon rover during the 1970s and more than the rover that US astronauts took to the moon on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

Opportunity sent back 217,594 images from Mars, all of which were made available on the internet.

– Human-like perspective –

“For the public, the big change was that Mars became a dynamic place, and it was a place that you could explore every day,” Emily Lakdawalla, an expert on space exploration and senior editor at The Planetary Society.

“The fact that this rover was so mobile, it seemed like an animate creature,” she said. “Plus it has this perspective on the Martian surface that’s very human-like.”

“It really felt like an avatar for humanity traveling across the surface,” she added.

Opportunity landed on an immense plain and spent half its life there, traversing flat expanses and once getting stuck in a sand dune for several weeks. It was there, using geological instruments, that it confirmed that liquid water was once present on Mars.

During the second part of its life on Mars, Opportunity climbed to the edge of the crater Endeavor, taking spectacular panoramic images — and discovering veins of gypsum, additional proof that water once flowed among the Martian rocks.

Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, landed three weeks ahead of it, and was active until it expired in 2010. The two far exceeded the goals of their creators: In theory, their missions were supposed to last 90 days.

Today, only a single rover is still active on Mars, Curiosity, which arrived in 2012. It is powered not by the sun, but by a small nuclear reactor.

In 2021, the recently named Rosalind Franklin robot, part of the European-Russian ExoMars mission, is slated to land on a different part of the planet, raising the population of active rovers to two.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Mission_complete_NASA_announces_demise_of_Opportunity_rover_999.html.

China’s lander and rover power down for lunar night

Beijing (Sputnik)

Feb 13, 2019

Last week, NASA released unique satellite reconnaissance photos of the landing site of the Chinese lunar mission, which made history last month by achieving humanity’s first-ever successful soft landing on the far side of the Moon.

China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft and its Yutu-2 lunar rover have entered sleep mode to wait out the cold lunar night, during which temperatures can plunge to as low as -190 degrees Celsius, a press release by the China Lunar Exploration Program has confirmed.

The mission, which landed on the far side of the Moon on January 3, powered down at 7 PM on Sunday Beijing time in preparation for the lunar sunset 24 hours later. Lunar nights last roughly two Earth weeks, with the Yutu-2 expected to wake up February 28, and the Chang’e-4 following a day later on March 1.

The scheduled power down was the second since January, with Yutu-2 and Chang’e-4 powering up to continue their scientific mission on January 28 and 29, respectively. China’s second successful Moon mission includes the study of the lunar environment, cosmic radiation and interactions between solar wind and the Moon’s surface. Since waking late last month, Yutu-2 accumulated 120 meters of driving time, sending the information back to scientists on Earth.

Chinese space scientists say all systems aboard both devices are operating as normal, and that experiments are continuing as planned.

The solar-powered craft made its historic landing in the eastern section of the Von Karman crater, located in the southern hemisphere near the Aitken basin, known as the lunar South Pole, last month. The spacecraft has already performed a number of firsts, including the first biological experiment in human history on the lunar surface by germinating a cotton seed aboard the Chang’e lander.

The lander and rover are fitted out with a series of advanced instruments, including a low frequency radio astronomy instruments co-developed by China and the Netherlands, and a Russian-made radioisotope thermoelectric generator which made it possible to measure temperatures during the previous lunar night cycle.

Yutu-2 is the second Chinese lunar rover to be sent to the Moon’s surface, and follows the 2013 Chang’e-3 mission, which saw the original Yutu rover travel 114 meters before becoming immobilized during its second lunar daytime outing. Yutu-2 featured a number of upgrades to improve reliability.

Source: Moon Daily.

Link: http://www.moondaily.com/reports/Chinas_lander_and_rover_power_down_for_lunar_night_999.html.

Steampunk Rover Could Explore Hellish Venus

By Mike Wall, Space.com

September 6, 2017

Researchers are studying the possibility of building a steampunk Venus rover, which would forsake electronics in favor of analog equipment, such as levers and gears, to the extent possible.

“Venus is too inhospitable for the kind of complex control systems you have on a Mars rover,” project leader Jonathan Sauder, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. “But with a fully mechanical rover, you might be able to survive as long as a year.

“Inhospitable” may be a bit of an understatement. Thanks to Venus’ thick atmosphere, pressures on the planet’s surface are high enough to crush the hull of a nuclear submarine, NASA officials said. That same atmosphere has also spawned a runaway greenhouse effect: Venus’ average surface temperature is a whopping 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius) — hot enough to melt lead (not to mention standard electronics).

No spacecraft has ever survived these conditions for more than 127 minutes, and none has even tried for more than three decades; the last probes to reach the Venusian surface were the Soviet Union’s twin Vega 1 and Vega 2 landers, which launched in 1984.

So Sauder and his team are thinking creatively, drawing inspiration from mechanical computers such as Charles Babbage’s famous 19th-century Difference Engine and the intricate Antikythera mechanism, which the ancient Greeks used to predict eclipses and perform a variety of other celestial calculations.

They’re developing their concept vehicle, known as the Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE), using two rounds of funding from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. NIAC grants are intended to help nurture potentially revolutionary space science and exploration ideas.

“In Phase 1, purely mechanical rover technologies were compared to a high-temperature electronics rover and hybrid rover technologies,” Sauder and his colleagues wrote in a description of the project. “A purely mechanical rover, while feasible, was found to not be practical, and a high-temperature electronics rover is not possible with the current technology, but a hybrid rover is extremely compelling.”

This hybrid rover, as currently envisioned, would trundle across Venus not on wheels but on treads, like a tank. Most of its power would be generated by an onboard wind turbine, though roof-mounted solar panels would help as well.

The team’s current plans also call for AREE to feature a radar target with a rotating shutter, which would allow the rover to selectively bounce back radar signals from an overhead orbiter. As such, AREE could relay data in an old-fashioned, Morse-code sort of way.

“When you think of something as extreme as Venus, you want to think really out there,” JPL engineer Evan Hilgemann, who’s working on AREE high-temperature designs, said in the same statement. “It’s an environment we don’t know much about beyond what we’ve seen in Soviet-era images.”

Source: SPACE.com.

Link: https://www.space.com/37994-nasa-steampunk-venus-rover-concept.html.

Opportunity Reaches 12 Years on Mars!

Pasadena CA (JPL)

Jan 31 2016

Opportunity is exploring ‘Marathon Valley’ on the rim of Endeavor crater. The rover is up on north-facing slopes for improved solar array energy production.

The rover is conducting an in-situ (contact) science campaign on the surface target ‘Joseph Collin’ (informally named for members of the Lewis and Clark expedition).

The target appears as a curious, unconsolidated pile of coarse, dark grains. On Sol 4263 (Jan. 20, 2016), Opportunity began two sols of investigation using the robotic arm instruments. On each sol, extensive Microscopic Imager (MI) mosaics were collected.

Each was followed with a unique placement of the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) for elemental identification. Over the next 3 days (sols), the rover attitude was updated and a series of Panoramic Camera (Pancam) and Navigation Camera (Navcam) panoramas were collected.

On Sol 4268 (Jan. 25, 2016), the final work on this in-situ target was completed with the raising of the robotic arm off the target and the collection of some documentary imagery. The rover is now set to drive away from this site towards new targets up-slope from the current location.

As of Sol 4268 (Jan. 25, 2016), the solar array energy production was 469 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.478 and a solar array dust factor of 0.691.

Total odometry is 26.50 miles (42.65 kilometers), more than a marathon.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Opportunity_Reaches_12_Years_on_Mars!_999.html.

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