Feeds

Another 18 months for Mars rovers

Keep on truckin'

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

NASA has approved another 18-months of crawling around on the Red planet for the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. The rovers, which were originally designed to explore the surface of Mars for just three months, are holding up so well after their fourteen month stay on the red planet, that mission scientists say they are having to make long term plans for them.

Spirit got an unscheduled spring-clean in March this year, when a dust devil swept past, clearing Martian sand from its solar panels, considerably improving its power output. Scientists had been pushing the solar-powered rover quite hard to get it out of the shadow of a rocky slope dubbed "Husband's hill". The power boost means it is making good progress.

Opportunity found a meteorite during its wanderings

Dr Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for the rover's science instruments, was concerned that the rover would be critically short of power as the Southern Hemisphere's summer drew to a close (around June). He says he still wants to get the rover over the hill and into the next basin, but that there is now more flexibility about the amount of science they can do.

Meanwhile, Opportunity is nearing a region called "Etched Terrain". Scientists think they will find rocks exposed by wind erosion, rather than by impact events, and rocks from a different period in Mars' history. Squyres described Opportunity's new target as "a journey into the unknown, something completely new". The rover has much dustier solar panels than its twin, but can still roll for as much as three hours in a day. It has now covered a total distance of three miles - eight times the distance originally planned for.

Jim Erickson, rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, warned that although plans are being made, either mission could easily be totally derailed by a random part failure. "With the rovers already performing well beyond their original design lifetimes, having a part wear out and disable a rover is a distinct possibility at any time," he said.

Both rovers are showing their age, a little. Spirit's drill's teeth seem to have worn away after grinding through five times as much rock as expected, and Opportunity's miniature thermal emission spectrometer is playing up.

"But right now, both rovers are in amazingly good shape," Erikson continued. "We're going to work them hard to get as much benefit from them as we can, for as long as they are capable of producing worthwhile science results." ®

Related stories

Opportunity sniffs out meteorite on Mars
NASA celebrates martian Spirit of adventure
Mars awash with evidence of water

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.