Curiosity Mast Camera (Mastcam) Left photo acquired on Sol 3512, June 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3514 duties.

“Drill success!” reports Ken Herkenhoff, a planetary geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. “Our first drill attempt since last November was successful!”

The new drill hole is surrounded by drill tailings as expected. This is one of several times in Curiosity’s mission, Herkenhoff adds, that drilling had to be re-designed to overcome an anomaly, again requiring lots of careful planning and testing using nearly identical drill hardware at JPL. “Kudos to the anomaly resolution team and thanks for all the good work that enabled the capability to drill again!”

Drilling is required to acquire samples of rock and deliver them to the laboratory instruments, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite and Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) inside the rover.

“So this is a day of celebration for the MSL science team,” Herkenhoff notes.

Curiosity Mast Camera (Mastcam) Right image taken on Sol 3512, June 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Portion characterization

“But before any sample can be delivered to CheMin or SAM, we have to see the results of the drill sample portion characterization that was planned last Wednesday,” Herkenhoff explains. “These results will not be relayed to Earth in time for planning Sols 3514 through 3516, so this weekend’s plan includes many remote sensing and environmental observations, including more Mastcam and Navcam images of the terrain east and west of the rover at various times of day to improve the sampling of observational geometries needed to constrain the photometric behavior of the surface materials.”

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 3513, June 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Such photometric observations are useful in determining the scattering properties and roughness of the rocks, soil and dust on the surface.

Sedimentary structures

Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will also be busy, with the Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) rasters planned on each sol, of targets “Magna Brava” (local bedrock), “Rio Uraricoera” (a vein), and “Wiapri” (a dark rock).

Mastcam will document the LIBS spots on each of these targets, Herkenhoff adds, and on the morning of Sol 3514 will acquire a 12×2 stereo mosaic extending the coverage of sedimentary structures at Marbura Hill and a multispectral observation of disturbed soil at “Kamana.” That afternoon, Navcam and Mastcam will examine the properties of dust in the atmosphere and Mastcam will acquire two more stereo mosaics, of “Amacuro” and “Deepdale.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3513, June 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dust, dust devils and clouds

On Sol 3515, Mastcam and Navcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere and Navcam will search for dust devils and clouds more extensively than usual, as additional time and power are available this weekend.

Navcam will search for clouds before dawn and Mastcam will measure the amount of dust above the rover later the next morning. Navcam will search again for clouds and dust devils later that sol.

“The rover will wake up before dawn again on Sol 3517 to allow Navcam to search for clouds,” Herkenhoff reports. “Later than morning, Mastcam and Navcam will measure atmospheric dust content before Navcam searches for clouds one more time.”

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured this view of layered, flaky rocks believed to have formed in an ancient streambed or small pond. The six images that make up this mosaic were captured using Curiosity’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, on June 2, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) will also monitor the environmental conditions through the weekend plan.

“So MSL [Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity] will be busy,” Herkenhoff concludes, “while we wait for news of the sample portion characterization!”

As always, dates of planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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