Curiosity Navcam Right B image acquired on Sol 1754, July 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Curiosity rover is performing Sol 1754 science tasks, recently carrying out pre-drive science followed by a drive and making untargeted observations, reports Abigail Fraeman, planetary geologist at NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California.

“There were a variety of light and dark colored veins near the rover that were visible in the Navcam images, so the science team decided to spend our pre-drive science time investigating the chemistry and morphology of these features,” Fraeman says.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B photo taken on Sol 1754, July 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Coordinated Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam), as well as Mastcam observations, were planned on light and dark veins in targets named “Hockomock Bay” and “Hells Half Acre.” Also, Mastcam-only observation of dark layers in a target named “High Sheriff” is on the schedule, Fraeman explains.

Watching for mobility challenges

“The next major chunk of time in Sol 1754 will be spent driving towards Vera Rubin Ridge,” Fraeman reports, with scientists and engineers casting eyes toward any geologic features in the terrain that could present mobility challenges.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 1753, July 12, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“We’ll be driving through a bunch of fractured bedrock and sandy areas as we head closer to our third official Vera Rubin Ridge approach imaging location,” Fraeman points out. “Because we’ve seen such spectacular sedimentary structures in our previous images of the ridge, we decided to try to get as close as possible to the vertical exposures of the lower portion of the Vera Rubin Ridge for this imaging stop. I can’t wait until we get there.”

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager (CHEMCAM_RMI)
photo taken on Sol 1753 , July 12, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Productive day

Lastly, on the plan is snapping a quick picture with Curiosity’s stowed Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), Fraeman concludes, and “that should give us a great view to the north back towards where we started from on Aeolis Palus almost five years ago. All in all, Sol 1754 should be a very productive day on Mars.”

Conjunction location

Opportunity Panoramic Camera image acquired on Sol 4785.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Meanwhile, elsewhere on Mars and now in Sol 4787 operations, the veteran Opportunity rover is parked in its conjunction location at the entrance to Perseverance Valley, on the southern side of the Valley, tilted to the north to be nice and sunny for its solar panels, explains Ray Arvidson of Washington University in Saint Louis. He is deputy principal investigator of the rover mission.

Opportunity Front Hazcam image taken on Sol 4787.
Credit: NASA/JPL

“We are currently planning a suite of sols to carry the rover over solar conjunction, with the last plan to be developed on July 18th,” Arvidson told Inside Outer Space. Communication and planning start again in early August, he adds.

Winter operations

After coming out of conjunction Opportunity will move toward winter operations, going from topographic lily pad to lily pad (north facing slopes), likely proceeding down the Valley in small steps, Arvidson explains.

Opportunity Panoramic Camera image acquired on Sol 4786.
Credit: NASA/JPL

“We have finished looking at the putative channel systems leading from the west to the entrance to Perseverance Valley,” Arvidson notes. Work is in progress about what Opportunity observations have told scientists about the valley its putative catchment.



Wheel-world worries

The veteran rover – landing on Mars in January 2004 — has been suffering from wheel worries.

Arvidson explains that for rover driving, Earth controllers either command tank turns so as not to not have the robot use its rear steering actuators. That is being done, or the rover just does turns with only modest rear wheel turns, like less than 10 to 15 degrees azimuthal rotation of those wheels.





Opportunity’s front right steering actuator is permanently rotated in about 8 degrees and has been that way since the sol 400s, Arvidson points out. Robot operators did get the robot’s left front wheel rotated back from its roughly 30 degree outward value to straight ahead. Rover controllers will not be using these two front wheel steering actuators, he adds.

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