Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1787, August 16, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Now in Sol 1787, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is commissioned to do less driving, more science.

That’s the word from Michael Battalio, an atmospheric scientist from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1787, August 16, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Driving issue

At the start of rover operations in the last day, it was discovered that a recent drive faulted prematurely after about 50 feet (15 meters), “which was roughly half the expected distance,” Battalio notes. “The drive halted because one of the middle wheels experienced a large up and down motion as if going over a large rock.”

Due to the short distance since the last contact science and the uncertain nature of the stability of the terrain at Curiosity’s position, Battalio adds that rover arm activities were ruled out due to the possibility of Curiosity shifting during arm motion.

“Thus, a possible touch and go plan was scaled back to only a drive away from the faulted position,” Battalio explains. This opened up a lot of science time, particularly for the Mars environment scientists.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1785, August 14, 2017. “Hupper” target from the Sol 1786 plan is the outcrop of rock near center of image.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Horizon, cloud movies

The new scripted plan is a late afternoon supra-horizon movie (SHM) and a zenith cloud movie.  The SHM is pointed just above the horizon due north so is sun-safe all day, but the zenith movie must be captured late or early in the day to allow for Navcam imaging to be sun safe, as the camera is pointed nearly vertically, Battalio notes.

“Sandwiched between the cloud movies,” Battalio adds, “Navcam will take a 30-minute dust devil movie to try to catch dust devils in motion.  In the early morning of Sol 1788, there will be a morning imaging suite with second SHM and zenith movies from Navcam, and Mastcam will take a tau and LOS measurement.”

Tau is the optical depth vertically while LOS (line-of-sight) determines the amount of dust towards the direction of the crater rim.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1786, August 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

ChemCam – now marked healthy

Now marked “healthy” is Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) after experiencing an anomaly over the weekend plan. But “in an abundance of caution,” Battalio says that geologists will only request one ChemCam observation of “Deadman Ledge,” which is an area of exposed Murray bedrock at the base of Vera Rubin Ridge.

The bulk of science will be performed by Curiosity’s Mastcam that will image “Folly Ledge,” an area of exposed fractures, “Cubby Hole,” an area of sand disturbed by the drive, a mosaic of the “Hupper” target from the Sol 1786 plan, and a documentation image of the ChemCam target.

Lastly, Battalio notes that rover planners also requested a Navcam image part way through the drive to look at what rock might have triggered Curiosity’s drive fault.

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