Opportunity's Navigation Camera shows its surroundings on Sol 4236. Credit: NASA/JPL

Opportunity’s Navigation Camera shows its surroundings on Sol 4236.
Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover is busy at work inside “Marathon Valley” on the west rim of Endeavour Crater. The robot is now in Sol 4238 of its mission.

Opportunity was launched on July 7, 2003 as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) program. The airbag-encapsulated robot came to full stop in Meridiani Planum on January 25, 2004.

According to a Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) update, the Mars machinery is positioned on steep slopes for improved solar array energy production.

Daily grind

The near-term duty of Opportunity has been positioning itself to enable grinding away at a high-value surface target using its Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT). Scientists believe this target may hold some of the clues as to the origin of the clay spectral signature detected in Marathon Valley.

On Sol 4222, Dec. 9, 2015, Opportunity “bumped” back about 12 feet (3.65 meters) to set up for an approach to this target on a very steep slope.

Front Hazcam on Opportunity shows its outstretched robot arm on Sol 4236. Credit: NASA/JPL

Front Hazcam on Opportunity shows its outstretched robot arm on Sol 4236.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Wheel currents

On the next sol, the rover bumped forward about 28 inches (70 centimeters), but because of the steep slopes the drive stopped as wheel currents exceeded protective set points for this steep terrain.

A second attempt was made on the next sol to approach this same target. Again the steep terrain caused the drive to stop after only 3.6 feet (1.1 meters) of wheel motion.

Slips as high as 50 percent are not uncommon for this steep terrain, notes the JPL update.

Past warranty

Latest map details movement of Opportunity as of Sol 4228. Credit: NASA/JPL

Latest map details movement of Opportunity as of Sol 4228.
Credit: NASA/JPL

In follow-on drives, Opportunity backed down slope about 10 feet (3 meters), collecting both pre-drive and post-drive imagery. That was followed by having the robot wheel roughly 14 feet (4.4 meters) to approach the target of interest from a more lateral direction. An approach bump followed that drive.

Since first movement on Mars, Opportunity’s total odometry reading is some 26.50 miles (42.65 kilometers).

The rover’s Sols past warranty now total 4148.

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