Friday, July 2, 2010

NASA Mars Rover Seeing Destination in More Detail

Mars rover team members have begun informally naming features around the rim of Endeavour Crater, as they develop plans to investigate that destination when NASA's Opportunity rover arrives there after many more months of driving.

A new, super-resolution view of a portion of Endeavour's rim reveals details that were not discernible in earlier images from the rover. Several high points along the rim can be correlated with points discernible from orbit.

Super-resolution is an imaging technique combining information from multiple pictures of the same target to generate an image with a higher resolution than any of the individual images.

Endeavour has been the team's long-term destination for Opportunity since the summer of 2008, when the rover finished two years of studying Victoria Crater. By the spring of 2010, Opportunity had covered more than a third of the charted, 19-kilometer (12-mile) route from Victoria to Endeavour and reached an area with a gradual, southward slope offering a view of Endeavour's elevated rim.

After the rover team chose Endeavour as a long-term destination, the goal became even more alluring when observations with the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, found clay minerals exposed at Endeavour. Clay minerals, which form under wet conditions, have been found extensively on Mars from orbit, but have not been examined on the surface. Additional observations with that spectrometer are helping the rover team choose which part of Endeavour's rim to visit first with Opportunity.

The team is using the theme of names of places visited by British Royal Navy Capt. James Cook in his 1769-1771 Pacific voyage in command of H.M.S. Endeavour for informal names of sites at Endeavour Crater. Points visible in the super-resolution view from May 12 include "Cape Tribulation" and "Cape Dromedary."NASA's next Mars rover, Curiosity, is sitting appealing on a set of spiffy new wheels that would be the desire of any car show on Earth.
The wheels and a deferral system were added this week by spacecraft technicians and engineers. These new and significant touches are a key step in assembling and testing the flight system in advance of a planned 2011 launch.
Curiosity, centerpiece of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, is a six-wheeler and uses a rocker-bogie deferral system like its smaller predecessors: Spirit, Opportunity and Sojourner. Each wheel has its own drive motor, and the corner wheels also have sovereign steering motors. Unlike earlier Mars rovers, Curiosity will also use its mobility system as a landing gear when the mission's rocket-powered tumble stage lowers the rover directly onto the Martian surface on a tether in August 2012.
In coming months at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the mobility system will get practical testing and be part of environmental testing of the rover. The mobility system will now stay on Curiosity through launch unless testing identifies a need for rework that would oblige it to be disassembled.

The mission will launch from Florida during the period Nov. 25 to Dec. 18, 2011. Curiosity will examine an area of Mars for modern or ancient livable environments, including any that may have also been approving for preserving clues about life and environment, though this mission will not seek confirmation of life. It will examine rocks, soil and atmosphere with a varied payload of tools, including a laser to vaporize patches of rock from a distance and an instrument intended to test for organic compounds.


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