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Curiosity sol 1 and planned activities for the next few sols

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

07-08-2012 16:29 CDT

Topics: mission status, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory)

I hardly know where to begin writing today: so much information! I'm going to have to break it into chunks and handle one at a time.

There was a press briefing this morning, featuring mission manager Mike Watkins along with MAHLI principal investigator Ken Edgett and HiRISE scientist Sarah Milkovich. After it was over, I asked Mike Watkins to explain to me what the plans are for the next few sols. I'll cover the cool HiRISE image of the landing site and the MAHLI image in separate blog entries.

By the way, a "sol" is a Martian day, about 24 hours and 40 minutes long. I'll often use "tosol," "yestersol," and (more rarely) "nextersol" (a word I learned from Scott Maxwell) to mean today, yesterday, and tomorrow in Martian days. It's important to distinguish time reckoned on Earth from time reckoned on Mars because of the different rate at which solar days elapse; "tomorrow" means the Earth day after this, August 8; "next sol" or "nextersol" means Curiosity sol 3, since it's currently sol 2 at Gale crater.

So. The press briefing took place at 10:00 PDT/17:00 UTC, shortly after Gale crater local midnight on sol 2. Watkins summed up the state of the rover after the completion of sol 1. Among the goals for sol 1 had been to deploy the high-gain antenna and attempt communications with Earth, and also to take data from some of the science instruments including MAHLI (the camera at the end of the arm), REMS (the weather instrument), RAD (the radiation detector. And they took some "dark frames" with the Navigation Cameras, which were still pressed against the rover deck.

Generally, everything is going great, with only minor hiccups (see below). It's still slow work getting data back because they're doing all their communication at a slow data rate of 8 kbps. Once they get the communications systems completely up and running, they'll have a mode when they communicate with Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter where they'll achieve 2 Mbps, and that's when the fire hose will open.

The HGA deploy worked, but it wasn't quite pointed correctly so the communication with it did not work. They will adjust parameters and try again tosol. The MAHLI image worked, but the dust cover is very, very dusty, so the image is a bit murky. Edgett said that the image was a focus check and he confirmed that the focus is good. One set of REMS data worked but the afternoon one did not; again, they need to adjust some parameters and try again.

Here's the big picture of what's planned for the coming days. If they run into problems, this schedule could slip. Note that images acquired on a given day will not necessarily be returned to Earth on that day.

  • Sol 2: Retry high-gain antenna communication session. Lift the mast from its stowed position on the desk, exposing the Navcams, Mastcams, and ChemCam for the first time. Use the Navcams to begin acquiring a 360-degree panorama. Only the bottom two tiers of that panorama will be taken tosol, so the images will mostly show the rover deck. Use the Mastcam to take a photo of the calibration target, otherwise known as the Marsdial.
  • Sol 3: Do some activities to prepare for flight software upgrade. Perform some aliveness tests on several science instruments including APXS, DAN, Chemin, and SAM. Take full 360-degree panorama with the wider-angle Mastcam.
  • Sol 4: More activities to prepare for flight software upgrade. More RAD data acquisition. Use Chemcam spectrometer in passive mode (without shooting laser). Use DAN neutron detector in passive mode (without shooting neutrons).
  • Sols 5-8: Flight software upgrade. They need to move from version 9 of the flight software, which operates Curiosity as a spacecraft, to version 10, which is designed to operate Curiosity as a landed, roving vehicle. The software was already uploaded to Curiosity while it was on its way to Mars, but it'll still take four days to install and check out the operating system upgrade on both of its redundant main computers.

So after the end of sol 4, which is in the afternoon of Friday, August 10, there won't be any new data acquired for a while. Yay, weekend!

See other posts from August 2012


Or read more blog entries about: mission status, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory)


John: 08/07/2012 04:40 CDT

Thanks again for good info. I, like many, am extremely anxious to see that first panorama from the mast cam. I know once it is available, I will find it excruciating to even wait for the download. :) (BTW Hope next weekend is a restful one for you)

Curt: 08/07/2012 05:09 CDT

Thanks so much, Emily, for the continuous coverage. I have been watching all the press briefings in realtime but have to say that the panelists are typically not clear enough for me, even though I feel that I have a good understanding of what they are trying to talk about. Mostly I'm having trouble knowing what happens when in Earthtime. So, please continue to 'translate' for us and dig out more details that we can understand. And get some rest ;-)

Neil: 08/07/2012 05:14 CDT

I look forward to your informative blogs. Thanks so much. Now I do have a concern: "Sol" no doubt refers to the sun. It occurs to me when people are on any planet or moon a local day could just as reasonably be called a sol, and when they're talking to each other if they all use "sol" for the local day, confusion will reign. It strikes me there's no better time than now to give the Martian day its own short name. "Marda" occurs to me but surely there are better ideas; yestermarda and nextermarda don't roll off the tongue and tomarda could be confused with tomorrow. Ideas? Mark my words, if this isn't dealt with now in thirty years there will be problems.

fthurber: 08/07/2012 05:40 CDT

The heat shield seems to have a excavated a nice fresh crater; I would think that such a recently exhumed crater might have dug up fresh materials. Such materials might have been protected from radiation and thus potentially preserve organics. Why isn't this a target when MSL starts roving?

fthurber: 08/07/2012 05:43 CDT

Ooops. Irene Klotz just asked this very same question and got a reasonable answer.

David: 08/07/2012 08:40 CDT

About how many hours apart are Curiosity and Opportunity? I was curious about what the difference would be in, say, sunrises at Endeavour vs. Gale. I tried to figure it out, and I got 9 hours, 48 minutes (in Earth hours) and 9 hours, 32 minutes (in Mars hours). But I'm not sure that's exactly right. Mars doesn't have time zones yet!

fthurber: 08/07/2012 09:15 CDT

So....the HiRISE PI thinks they he find the tungsten ballast eh? Very interesting but I doubt it would be close enough for a sniff by SAM...It must be way uprange of the landing site.

Chris C.: 08/08/2012 11:44 CDT

fthurber: I think the ballasts are likely to be DOWNrange of the landing site. It might seem counterintuitive, but note that they didn't have a big lightweight heatshield or parachute to slow them down. You may have heard the term "ballastic coefficient" mentioned during the Tuesday presser -- that's what they were talking about. And thank you TPS for fixing the login problems! For the first month or so of this new website, I could not log in. I beat my head against it for a week and gave up. Just now I tried it and BOOM it works. Thanks!

Chris C.: 08/08/2012 11:47 CDT

Oh, the comment system here does not respect linefeeds. Hmm, OK, let's see if it respects simple HTML ...

fthurber: the "why aren't we visiting the heatshield" question has been answered in pretty much every press conference for the past week now! Please watch one. Heck, watch the presser in 15 minutes, it'll probably get asked AGAIN.

Phobos_sol: 08/08/2012 03:45 CDT

I write this with dread and fear, but how many days -- er -- sols are in a Mars week? Our Tuesday (Mars day marti) would be Gaiasol? And since Mars has TWO moons, would moon day be Phobossol and Deimossol? That would make it, as the Beatles said, "8 days a week"

Emily: 08/14/2012 09:29 CDT

Glad you enjoy these! Regarding the marking of time's passage on Mars -- there have been lots of calendars devised, and none is in common use. The only ones scientists use are sols, Ls ("L sub ess", the solar longitude) and Mars Years. I explain this here:

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