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Curiosity update, sols 1311-1369: Drilling at Lubango, Okoruso, and Oudam, and a turn to the south

Posted By Emily Lakdawalla

15-06-2016 17:24 CDT

Topics: mission status, Mars, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory)

Curiosity is at a turning point in its mission to Mount Sharp, both literally and figuratively. On sol 1369 (June 12, 2016), having descended the western edge of the Naukluft Plateau and drilled at three sample sites in 7 weeks, the rover took a left turn, changing its trajectory from a generally westward driving path to a southward one.

Phil Stooke's Curiosity route map (in progress): Across the Naukluft plateau, sols 1167-1369

NASA / JPL / UA / Phil Stooke

Phil Stooke's Curiosity route map (in progress): Across the Naukluft plateau, sols 1167-1369

Curiosity turned south because it has finally reached the gap in the Bagnold dune field that has stood in the way of the rover's access to the mineralogically interesting rocks of Mount Sharp since landing day. The rover's southward course will take it into a landscape of isolated knobs called the Murray Buttes, and the rover will begin to steadily climb in elevation as it proceeds south. In this most recent self-portrait, the rover gazes toward the south, in the general direction of its future travel.

Curiosity self-portrait at Okoruso, sol 1338


Curiosity self-portrait at Okoruso, sol 1338
Cuirosity took the photos for this self-portrait after drilling at two adjacent sites near the western edge of the Naukluft plateau, on so 1338 (May 11, 2016). It was the second Mars anniversary of the landing. Okoruso is the site in front of the rover; the much brighter Lubango drill site is visible behind the rover (close to the mast). There is also a low ridge to the left of the rover, where rocks have been crushed by the rover's wheels. Curiosity took a close look at those rocks before driving away to the west. In this unusual view, the rover is looking toward the west, and we can see the back of the mast, for the first time since the rover's landing.

This turn south might also mark a shift in the style of the mission. From the time that Curiosity left Yellowknife Bay around sol 324 to its arrival at Pahrump Hills around sol 753, the rover's main focus was driving; it sampled at only one location in those 420 sols. Since arrival at Pahrump Hills, although westward driving progress has been a goal, the rover has done much more sampling, at 10 sites in 602 sols. Its westward course has taken it up and down across the boundary between two main rock units (the Murray mudstone, interpreted by the mission to be lakebed sediment, and the Stimson sandstone, interpreted to be aeolian sand) several times. With this southward turn on sol 1369, the mission style is going to shift again to something that's a hybrid of the two. Curiosity will be driving on Murray bedrock for a long, long time. Instead of exploring along a geologic contact, scientists will be surveying up a geologic section, more like the earlier traverse phase. That's not to say there won't be sampling: scientists will monitor composition and morphology variations and will likely want to sample the Murray from time to time as the rover climbs in elevation, steadily traveling south.

Here's a wider look at the terrain to the south; use your 3D glasses to see the elevation, or click one of the links below the image for alternate viewing options. Curiosity's near-future course will hew relatively close to the western edges of the dunes, but it could then diverge to travel among the buttes.

3D route map for Curiosity: Across the Bagnold dune field, sols 1153-1417

NASA / JPL / UA / Phil Stooke / Emily Lakdawalla

3D route map for Curiosity: Across the Bagnold dune field, sols 1153-1417
A wide view of Curiosity's future traverse. At full resolution it is 1 meter per pixel. North is about 7 degrees to the left of up. Murray Buttes are at the left of the image, and the dark swath is the Bagnold dune field. Curiosity's route is based on mapping by Phil Stooke.

Crossed-eye stereo

Parallel-eye stereo

Flicker gif

With all this focus on driving, it's worth checking in on the status of the damage to the wheels. I've been concerned about the potential for wheel damage from the Naukluft crossing ever since I wrote my long explainer on wheel damage one Mars year ago, but that concern seems to have been misplaced. While the wheels are continuing to degrade, there was no acceleration in the rate of damage during the crossing; the wheels are holding up better than I expected. Driving on Murray rocks will likely see a continuation of this trend. The terrain ahead has more potential to damage wheels than sand would, but it's not as bad as some that Curiosity has seen.

Curiosity wheel survey, sol 1315

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Curiosity wheel survey, sol 1315
Curiosity performed a complete five-position survey of all wheels on sols 1313 and 1315 with the MAHLI camera on the end of the arm.

As usual it's the left-middle wheel I'm most concerned about, so here is an updated view of the progression of damage to it. There are no broken grousers (the raised ridges on the wheels) yet, but I'm keeping my eye on the left-middle wheel, which has several grousers that are nearly isolated by cracks all the way through the webbing that formerly connected them. Once one grouser breaks, damage to that wheel will likely accelerate rapidly, but for now, things are looking okay. Really, there's been surprisingly little change since sol 962.

Survey of the damage to Curiosity's left-middle wheel through sol 1315

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Survey of the damage to Curiosity's left-middle wheel through sol 1315

An editorial note: I saw a recent web story that stated that Curiosity's wheels were going to doom the mission eventually. While that is possible, it's not very likely. Curiosity's wheels are a problem, but they are not nearly as serious a problem as many other missions have dealt with. The problems with Curiosity's wheels are more serious than Opportunity's broken right front wheel steering actuator, but less serious than the problems caused by Spirit's broken right front wheel driving actuator. The wheel problems are less serious than the failure of two of Dawn's reaction wheels, and Dawn has majorly surpassed its mission goals. The wheel problems are less serious than the flash memory problems that plague both Opportunity and Mars Express, and those two machines are still doing great science after 12 years at Mars.

Things do break on space missions, and we accommodate the problems, and learn how to work around them, and in the grand scheme of things the wheel problems are a medium-small issue that can be managed effectively by modifying how we operate the rover. What will doom Curiosity for certain, if nothing else does, is the declining power output from the radioisotope thermoelectric generator, which will be putting out barely 50 watts by the end of 2025, after sol 4700 or so. At that point the rover may no longer be able to wake up. But that's a long time in the future -- Curiosity can do a lot of science between now and then, and with care the wheels will be able to carry Curiosity forward at least another 10 kilometers (it has traveled about 12 kilometers to date, 4 of them since sol 708, when I wrote the wheel explainer).

Twelve Curiosity drill holes on Mars

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Twelve Curiosity drill holes on Mars
As of May 2016, Curiosity has drilled and sampled at eleven locations on Mars. They are (left to right and top to bottom): John Klein, drilled on sol 182; Cumberland, on sol 279; Windjana, on sol 621; Confidence Hills, on sol 759, Mojave, on sol 882; Telegraph Peak, on sol 908; Buckskin, on sol 1060; Big Sky, on sol 1119; Greenhorn, on sol 1137; Lubango, on sol 1320; Okoruso, sol 1332, and Oudam, sol 1361. All of these images were taken with the MAHLI camera on the end of the arm from a distance of about 5 centimeters. The drill holes are 1.6 centimeters wide.

Drilling at Lubango, Okoruso, and Oudam

Since my last update on sol 1310, Curiosity has drilled three times: at Lubango on sol 1320, Okoruso on sol 1332, and Oudam on sol 1361. Lubango and Okoruso were located close to each other in the Stimson sandstone, sampling altered (Lubango) and then unaltered (Okoruso) material, close to and away from a bright, silica-rich halo around a rock fracture. The Lubango/Okoruso pair was similar to Greenhorn (altered) and Big Sky (unaltered) drill sites, which Curiosity sampled back on sols 1137 and 1119, respectively. They were so similar, in fact, that Curiosity was permitted to skip the step of doing a "mini-drill" to test the rock drilling properties before proceeding to the full-depth drill. That saved a couple of sols at each site, contributing to the speed of the campaign -- only 12 sols separated the two drilling days!

Curiosity descended the edge of the Naukluft plateau on sol 1353, leaving the Stimson behind and returning to the Murray formation. The Murray formation is widespread, but is not the same everywhere. Mission geologists have mapped out its different appearance from orbit, noticing areas where it is more orange or more blue (relatively speaking), and are investigating whether there are any correlations between the Murray's apparent color as seen from orbit, and its composition. The Murray formation near Curiosity's descent location had an unusual color, so they proceeded directly to drilling it, at Oudam. Again, though, the rock's properties as seen in Mastcam and MAHLI images and ChemCam and APXS compositional measurements were similar enough to previous Murray drill sites that they were able to proceed with no mini-drill.

That's pretty much it for the operational update, this time around. Three drill holes in two months is a new record for Curiosity.

Two Mars Years

Last month, on May 11, the mission celebrated two Mars years on the surface, an event that they marked by publishing this cool infographic showing weather variations over that period. With two complete seasonal cycles on the graphs, you can see both repeating variations (like the double-peaked distribution of the air pressure variations, which has to do with shrinking of the polar caps during each polar summer) and year-to-year variations.

Seasonal cycles in Curiosity's first two Martian years


Seasonal cycles in Curiosity's first two Martian years
Curiosity's REMS weather instrument has documented air temperature, water vapor content, and pressure for more than two Mars years. Learn more here.

To celebrate the Martian anniversary, there was, of course, a cake.

Here are all of the USGS updates from the last two months. Keep up with the mission at the USGS Astrogeology website, and stay tuned to this site for the next update -- hopefully after Curiosity has put several hundred more meters on the odometer!

Sol 1311 update by Ryan Anderson: Take Me To Fracture Town (13 April 2016)

Today I was on duty as KOP again, but we got to sleep in: we started at 7 am instead of 6:30!

Curiosity is in good shape and our drive was successful. In the Sol 1311 plan, we have ChemCam observations of the targets "Garnet Koppie", "Amspoort", "Soutrivier", and "Uubvley". Garnet Koppie and Amspoort will allow us to compare the composition of a bright fracture halo and the nearby bedrock, Soutrivier is targeting a small white vein, and Uubvley is a fin of material sticking up near a large fracture. ChemCam also has a long distance RMI observation of the Peace Vallis channel off to the north. We talked a lot about possible places to image with Mastcam, but decided that we will have a better view of everything of interest after another drive or two, so Mastcam just has documentation images of the ChemCam targets.

After the targeted observations, we have a short drive to put the rover in a better position to see the terrain in front of it. This will allow us to drive into the area with large fractures visible from orbit, which we have started informally calling "Fracture Town" but which will probably get a more official name soon.

The plan finished with some early morning atmospheric observations on Sol 1312, including a ChemCam passive sky observation, Mastcam observation of the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and Navcam movies to watch for clouds.

Sol 1312 update by Lauren Edgar: The best laid plans… (14 April 2016)

The original plan for today included an ~11 m drive to get closure to a fracture in the Stimson formation.  However, during science discussion, the team talked further about how to best sample both altered and unaltered Stimson bedrock, and realized that some of the best places to accomplish the proposed sampling were likely behind us!  As a result of this discussion, the drive in today’s plan was pulled at the last minute.

So the modified plan for Sol 1312 includes several ChemCam and Mastcam observations to assess the composition of both altered and unaltered Stimson bedrock, and Mastcam imaging to document the fractures that run through the outcrop.  We won’t drive, but we’ll still take images to set us up for contact science and remote sensing in the weekend plan.  Talk about late-breaking science!

Sols 1313-1315 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Full MAHLI wheel imaging (15 April 2016)

Tactical planning was a bit hectic today as we reacted to yesterday's change in the near-term science goals, but the team quickly determined what is feasible and put together a good plan.  There are no good brushable targets in the arm workspace, so the DRT will not be used.  Rather, we selected 3 targets for MAHLI imaging and APXS measurements of natural surfaces.  I'm MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead today, and have been very busy!

The Sol 1313 plan starts with a mid-day ChemCam observation of the sky and Mastcam images of the Sun to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere.  The arm will be deployed that afternoon to take MAHLI images of "Kasane" and "Uau," on either side of a bright/dark boundary in the outcrop.  MAHLI will then take pictures of another bedrock target dubbed "Onesi" and of the rover wheels.  The APXS will be placed on Onesi for a couple evening integrations, then on Uau for an overnight integration.

Early the next morning, Navcam will search for clouds and Mastcam will measure dust again by imaging the Sun.  Later that morning, MAHLI will take pictures of the REMS ultraviolet sensor, which is done periodically to see how much dust is on the sensor.  Then the remote sensing instruments get busy:  Mastcam will take a multispectral image of "Gariep," a few rocks that were broken/crushed by the rover wheels, then ChemCam and Mastcam will observe Uau, Kasane and a bedrock target named "Kolmanskop."  The RMI will acquire a 5x1 mosaic of Mount Sharp, Mastcam will take stereo images of the "Rasthoff" area and image the Sun again, and Navcam will search for clouds.  Finally, the APXS will be placed on Kasane for an overnight integration, in parallel with a SAM scrubber cleaning activity.

On Sol 1315, the rover will complete the full set of MAHLI wheel images, bumping in between images to ensure that all parts of the wheels are imaged.  The usual set of post-drive images will then be acquired to set us up for planning on Monday, when we will probably drive again.

Sol 1316 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Back to Lubango (18 April 2016)

 All of the activities planned for last weekend completed successfully, including the full MAHLI wheel imaging and associated rover motion of just over 1 meter.  The science team decided to return to the Lubango outcrop based on ChemCam results that show unusually high silica there.  Therefore, the Sol 1316 plan includes a drive back toward Lubango to find good targets for drilling.  Before the drive, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe bedrock targets "Outapi" and "Okongo," the RMI will acquire a 5x1 mosaic of "Piambo," Mastcam will take images of the Lubango area, and Navcam will search for dust devils.  Active DAN measurements are planned both before and after the drive, and CheMin will perform some calibration activities overnight.  I'm MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead again today, and had only the usual MARDI twilight image to plan.

Sol 1317 update by Lauren Edgar: Preparing to Drill (19 April 2016)

On Sol 1316, Curiosity drove ~15 m back toward the "Lubango" target, which we first observed on Sol 1310.  "Lubango" is a high silica target that sits along a fracture in the Stimson formation.  The team decided to drill near this fracture to better understand both the altered and unaltered Stimson bedrock.  "Lubango" is the flat block on the right side of the above Navcam image.  The fracture is still slightly out of reach, so today’s plan involves a short bump to set us up for drilling activities.

The plan starts with six ChemCam activities aimed at identifying high silica targets.  We’ll also acquire a large Mastcam mosaic of the area to document the targets and potential drill sites.  Then we’ll bump forward and take post-drive imaging for targeting.  If all goes smoothly, we should be ready to DRT and start contact science tomorrow!

Sol 1318 update by Lauren Edgar: DRT at Lubango (20 April 2016)

The bump on Sol 1317 went well, and we’re ready to start our drilling campaign at the "Lubango" fracture zone.  After a lot of discussion this morning, the plan evolved to include contact science at three targets near "Lubango."  First we’ll use the DRT to clear off a fresh surface.  This DRT location is slightly offset from the intended drill location, so we’ll use MAHLI to image both the DRT location and the intended drill location.  Then we’ll do a short APXS integration on the intended drill target.  In the evening, we’ll squeeze in another APXS integration on a target named "Congula" which is a block of outcrop adjacent to "Lubango."  Then we’ll place the APXS on the DRT location for an overnight integration.  I’ll be on duty tomorrow as GSTL, so it was good to catch up on all of the potential drill locations today.  Should be an exciting week of operations!

Sols 1320-1322 update by Lauren Edgar: Drilling at Lubango (22 April 2016)

The contact science activities on Sol 1319 went well, and we analyzed another DRT location with MAHLI and APXS.  The drill pre-load test suggested that the Lubango block might have moved slightly, but the RPs feel comfortable to go ahead and drill in the weekend plan.

I was on duty as GSTL again today, and it’s always exciting when we get to drill a new sample on Mars.  In addition to the main drill activities, the plan includes several targeted science blocks, which will be used to characterize the drill location and search for the next potential drill site on unaltered Stimson bedrock.  On the second sol, the science block includes Mastcam multispectral characterization of the drill hole, followed by several Mastcam mosaics.  The color information provided by Mastcam is really helpful in distinguishing altered versus unaltered bedrock.  We also planned a small mosaic to assess a fracture that crosscuts an impact crater.  Then we’ll shoot several ChemCam targets to assess the block that we’re drilling, and a few sites that we might bump to next.  The science block on the second sol includes an additional target to assess unaltered Stimson bedrock.  Fingers crossed for a successful drilling campaign!

Sol 1323 update from Ken Herkenhoff: A new drill hole (25 April 2016)

So far, all of the activities planned for last weekend have completed successfully, and we have a new drill hole on Mars!  The Sol 1323 plan is therefore to continue the Lubango drill campaign, transferring the sample to CHIMRA, sieving it, and delivering some of the
I'm SOWG Chair today, and the only significant problem I've had to deal with is how to fit everything we'd like to do into the available power.  We were able to squeeze in all of the top-priority activities, so I'm happy with the plan!

Sol 1324 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Power-constrained (26 April 2016)

As expected, the Sol 1323 data we needed for planning today were received later than usual, so tactical planning started 3 hours later than normal.  This makes for a long day, especially for the European members of the MSL operations team.  But the real challenge today is power--the drill-related activities that have been commanded lately require discharging the batteries more deeply than we usually do.  So as SOWG Chair today, I put a lot of effort into fitting high-priority observations into the plan while limiting battery discharge.  As it turned out, we were able to preserve all of the strategically-planned activities, including dumping the unsieved portion of the sample and observing it with Mastcam, Navcam, MAHLI, and APXS.  ChemCam will measure the chemistry in the wall of the drill hole and CheMin will return mineralogical data.  But these activities will leave the batteries only 60% charged, not enough to continue the drill campaign tomorrow.  So it looks like the rover will have to take a break and recharge its batteries tomorrow.

Sol 1325 update by Ryan Anderson: Taking it Easy (27 April 2016)

It’s been a busy few days of drilling and related activities, so the plan for sol 1325 is a pretty simple one to allow the rover’s batteries to recharge. There is a short science block with a ChemCam observation of the drill tailings at "Lubango" along with Mastcam documentation. After that, MAHLI will take a closer look at the targets "Lianshulu" and "Rubikon". Other than routine environmental monitoring measurements by DAN, RAD, and REMS, that’s about all for sol 1325! Taking it easy today allows us to do some remote sensing tomorrow and then wrap up our activities at this location over the weekend. On Sunday we will drive to our next drilling location, which is on a nearby patch of normal-looking Stimson sandstone. 

Sols 1326-1329 update from Ryan Anderson: Wrapping Up at Lubango (29 April 2016)

After a nice rest on Sol 1325, Curiosity was charged up and ready for lots of science! On Sol 1326, we started off with multispectral Mastcam observations of the pile of dumped powder from the "Lubango" drill target and the targets "Rubikon" and "Ebony". Then ChemCam had a passive observation of the dump pile, followed by active observations using the laser on Rubikon as well as "Ida" and "Lorelei". Mastcam documented the ChemCam observations as usual, and then finished the science block with an atmospheric observation. Later in the day on Sol 1326, MAHLI observed the dump pile and drill tailings, as well as a bedrock target called "Nara Valley". Finally, APXS had an overnight observation of the dump pile.

In today’s weekend plan, which covers Sols 1327-1329, we start off with a sol focused on dumping out more of the powder acquired from the Lubango drill, this time after passing it through a sieve. Mastcam and MAHLI will take pictures of the new dump location before and after the sieved sample is dumped, and then APXS will do an overnight measurement. On Sol 1238, we have lots of remote sensing. Navcam and Mastcam have a few atmospheric observations, and then ChemCam will measure the pre- and post-sieve dump piles, Nara Valley, and a target called "Ovitoto".

Then, on Sol 1329, Curiosity will do a short drive to a nearby patch of flat Stimson formation sandstone that should not have as much silica enrichment as what we see at Lubango. This will put us in position to drill that location sometime next week!

Sols 1330-1331 update by Lauren Edgar: Characterizing the next drill site (2 May 2016)

Over the weekend, Curiosity completed the drilling investigation at Lubango, and we drove ~13 m to the "Ovitoto" area (note that this area is only ~4 m away from Lubango as the crow flies, but it took some maneuvering to get there).  This area is composed of typical unaltered Stimson bedrock, which we’ll use to compare to the altered bedrock at Lubango. 

I was on duty as GSTL today, and we put together a full plan of contact science to characterize the next potential drill site.  The two-sol plan starts with a ChemCam observation of "Okoruso," followed by MAHLI of the same site.  ChemCam LIBS shots tend to blow away a lot of dust, so this will create some nice clean spots for MAHLI to observe grain-scale properties.  The "Okoruso" target will then be brushed off with the DRT, and we’ll acquire MAHLI and APXS on the same spot.  We’ll also do a preload test to prepare for drilling on Wednesday.  Early the next morning, Curiosity will acquire several Navcam and Mastcam observations to monitor the atmosphere and search for dust devils.  These activities will be coordinated with REMS monitoring at the same time.  In the afternoon of the second sol we have a targeted science block, with ChemCam observations of "Omatako" and "Kombat" to investigate variations in composition near the drill site and another alteration zone.  Looking forward to more drilling on Wednesday!

Sols 1332-1333 update by Lauren Edgar: Drilling at Okoruso (4 May 2016)

Contact science activities on Sol 1330 went well, and we’re ready to drill at "Okoruso."  As seen in the above MAHLI image, this target looks like pretty typical Stimson bedrock, so it will be helpful to compare to the altered rock that we sampled at Lubango.

Today’s two-sol plan is focused on drilling and MAHLI imaging on the first sol, with a lot of targeted remote sensing on the second sol.  Activities on the second sol include a Mastcam multispectral observation of the drill hole, a large Mastcam mosaic to document the local geology, ChemCam observations of "Kobos" and "Strathmore" to investigate altered and unaltered rocks, and a long distance ChemCam RMI mosaic as part of a change detection experiment.  We’ll also acquire a Mastcam tau, ChemCam passive sky, and Navcam movie to monitor the atmosphere.

I’m impressed by how efficient we’ve become at drilling (we just wrapped up the last drill hole a couple of sols ago).  Sometimes I need to pause and remind myself how unique and exciting this is.  On what seems like just a typical Wednesday, we’re drilling a hole on another planet!  I’m grateful for the skilled operations team that makes this seem so easy, and I’m looking forward to seeing results from the newest drill hole on Mars.

Sols 1334-1336 update by Lauren Edgar: Successful drilling at Okoruso (6 May 2016)

Meet the latest drill hole on Mars: "Okoruso," created on Sol 1332, seen in the above MAHLI image.  Drilling activities went well on Sol 1332, so the weekend plan is focused on sieving the sample and dropping it off to CheMin for analysis.  The plan starts with a short science block to acquire a ChemCam RMI image of the drill hole, and Mastcam stereo imaging of the pre-sieve dump location.  Then the "Okoruso" drill sample will be transferred and sieved and delivered to CheMin for analysis overnight.  The second sol includes ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the targets "Natas" and "Langental" to investigate variations in chemistry through the stratigraphy.  The third sol has an early morning science block full of ChemCam, Navcam, and Mastcam observations to monitor the composition and opacity of the, atmosphere and search for clouds.  In the afternoon we’ll use ChemCam to study the drill tailings and a freshly broken rock, followed by some repeated atmospheric observations.

Sols 1337-1338 update by Lauren Edgar: Curiosity’s two-day arm challenge, followed by a selfie (9 May 2016)

Today’s two-sol plan is going to be quite an arm workout for Curiosity.  Over the weekend, Curiosity transferred and sieved the "Okoruso" drill sample, and analyzed it with CheMin.  That means that today’s plan is focused on arm activities and imaging the drill location.  The plan starts by dumping the pre-sieved drill sample.  Then we’ll use Mastcam to image the dump pile and drill site.  Next, we’ll target the drill hole with ChemCam, and we’ll also characterize a nearby bedrock target named "Ubib," followed by a MAHLI image of the dump pile.  Overnight, it’s time for another arm workout – this time focused on MAHLI nighttime imaging of the drill hole and "Ubib" under different illumination conditions.  On the first sol, that’s already several hours of arm activities, while holding a 66 pound (30 kg) turret at the end.  After such an intense workout, what’s next?  Time for a selfie.  On the second sol Curiosity will take a MAHLI self portrait to document the drill site.  But unlike most selfies, Curiosity’s selfie requires 60 different images, and will take nearly an hour to acquire.  Finally, we’ll give the arm a break, and Curiosity will take several ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the drill tailings in the afternoon.  Talk about a good workout (for a lot of great science). 

Sols 1339-1340 update by Ryan Anderson: Two Mars Years! (11 May 2016)

Happy birthday, Curiosity! As of today, the rover has been on the surface of Mars for two Mars years (almost four Earth years)! To celebrate, we have a new press release discussing our ongoing environmental measurements. These sorts of systematic measurements become more useful the longer the rover is on the surface to collect them, because we can compare how conditions change from year to year.

Of course, we had other ways to celebrate too. Our French colleagues at CNES (Centre national d'études spatiales) made a Mars-themed cake, complete with a little rover exploring a delicious-looking cocoa-dusted martian surface!

The mission doesn’t stop for us to eat cake though. Today we planned Sols 1339 and 1340, continuing our drill campaign at the target "Okoruso". On Sol 1339, MAHLI will observe a pile of drill tailings that was dumped without being sieved. CheMin will complete the analysis from the Sol 1338 plan, and APXS will make an overnight measurement of the dump pile. On Sol 1340, we have a targeted science block with ChemCam passive and active observations of the dump pile, and active observations of the targets "Kobos 2", "Stampriet", and "Swartmodder". Mastcam will document those targets, and then Mastcam and Navcam will make some atmospheric dust observations.

Here’s to many more martian birthdays for our rover! We still have a long way to go to catch up with Opportunity’s >6.5 Mars years of activity!

Sols 1341-1343 update by Ken Herkenhoff: A change of plans (13 May 2016)

The MSL team was originally planning a long drive this weekend, but there was enough interest in the fresh rock surfaces exposed near the rover that we decided to investigate them instead.  Before we could decide whether to "bump" to the rocks that were broken when the rover drove over them, we had to make sure they could be well imaged by MAHLI.  Taking MAHLI images of nearly vertical faces is difficult, because the turret at the end of the arm must be placed close to the ground.  While the Strategic Rover Planner worked to find ways to get MAHLI close to the fresh surfaces, we planned pre-drive remote sensing and arm activities:  On Sol 1341, ChemCam will observe its calibration target, a bedrock target named "Kobos 3," and the wall of the Okoruso drill hole.  Mastcam will then provide context for the ChemCam observations and take stereo mosaics of "Naob" and other bedrock near the rover.  Later that afternoon, the DRT will be used to brush dust off a brighter layer in the bedrock, with MAHLI images taken before and after the brushing.  We also planned close-up MAHLI images on a nearby bedrock target dubbed "Rooilepel" and a lower-resolution MAHLI mosaic of the area including Mariquita.  All of this MAHLI work made for a very busy day for me as MAHLI uplink lead!  

APXS will measure the chemistry of the brush spot overnight, before another busy sol begins.  The arm will be stowed to allow a Mastcam multispectral observation of the brush spot before the rover bumps over to the broken rocks.  During the drive, DAN will actively measure the subsurface hydrogen content by turning on its neutron generator.  After acquiring post-drive images, the rover will take a nap before CheMin performs another overnight analysis of the Okoruso drill sample.  Early on the morning of Sol 1343, Navcam will search for clouds and dust devils, and Mastcam will measure the optical thickness of dust in the atmosphere.  Later that sol, ChemCam will use the newly-validated AEGIS software to acquire LIBS measurements of an autonomously-selected target.  Of course, we are hoping that the software continues to work well!

Sols 1344-1345 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Touch and Go (16 May 2016)

The drive planned last weekend completed successfully, moving MSL less than 6 meters into position for contact science on the rocks broken by the rover wheels.  Planning is restricted this week, so we are planning 2 sols' worth of activities.  The first sol (1344) includes a "touch and go" that requires extra Rover Planner staffing, as both arm activities and a drive are planned.  It's great to be able to do so much in one plan, but we had to cram a lot of stuff into Sol 1344 because the drive has to be completed before the afternoon MRO communications relay to allow another drive to be planned on Wednesday.  So we had to decide which scientific observations were most important and work to fit them into the plan.  I helped select a target for a ChemCam observation of "Impalila," one of the freshly-exposed rock surfaces, and was glad to see that it made it into the plan.  Mastcam will acquire a multispectral observation of the broken rocks before MAHLI takes pictures of "Stampriet," Impalila, "Narubis," and "Swartmodder."  As I mentioned in my previous blog, it's difficult to get MAHLI close to these targets, so the camera will be placed no closer than 5 cm from any of the targets; we can't get any closer than 25 cm to Swartmodder.  After MAHLI imaging is completed and the arm stowed, the rover will drive toward the west, hopefully getting back to the Sol 1311 location, where the rover was before we decided to return to the Lubango area.  

Sol 1345 observations cannot be targeted because they will be taken after the drive, so ChemCam and Mastcam will perform routine sky measurements.  That's it!

Sols 1346-1347 update by Ryan Anderson: Onward to Fracture Town (18 May 2016)

We are coming up on the edge of Naukluft plateau (again!). The plan for Sol 1346 starts off with ChemCam observations of the targets "Etusis" and "Etiro", to continue measuring the variations in silica abundance around large fractures. Mastcam has a context image of these two targets, plus a mosaic looking ahead to an area we’ve been calling "Fracture Town". After that, the rover will drive and do standard post-drive imaging, plus CheMin will do another analysis of the Okoruso sample.

On Sol 1347, the rover has a number of atmospheric observations, plus a ChemCam observation using the AEGIS software to target a nice patch of bedrock automatically. This is a new capability, and it’s really nice to be able to get some data after we drive without having Earth in the loop!

Sols 1348-1349 update by Ryan Anderson: A smoother route (20 May 2016)

Our drive on Sol 1346 was successful and brought us to a location with a view of the rugged ridges of the area we’ve been calling "Fracture Town". In fact, from our current location, we decided that those ridges may be a bit too rough for comfort, so we are planning a slight change in course that will take us a bit south of our original path. The new path should be smoother and will also give us a better view of the contact between the Stimson and Murray units.

But before we set off on this revised path, we have some science to do at our current location! On Sol 1348, ChemCam has observations on the targets "Meob", "Nomeib", and "Munutum". Mastcam will take documentation images of these targets as well as the one observed by ChemCam using AEGIS after our last drive. Mastcam will also observe the targets "Hudoab", "Witputz", "Sandamap", plus a mosaic of Fracture Town. Once the remote sensing is done, we will brush off the target Meob, taking MAHLI images before and after. MAHLI will also take some images of the target Nomeib. That will be followed by a quick APXS observation of Nomeib and an overnight observation on Meob.

On Sol 1349 we have some more targeted science! ChemCam will observe targets "Annental" and "Nainais", and in addition to documentation images of those targets, Mastcam will also do a multispectral observation of Meob. Navcam has an atmospheric observation as well. After that, the rover will drive and do standard post-drive imaging, plus a ChemCam AEGIS observation and a MARDI image of the ground beneath us.

Even though that is only two sols, it will take us through the weekend, since Saturday is a "soliday" which allows our times to synch back up with Mars time. 

Sol 1350 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Data processing delay (23 May 2016)

I'm SOWG Chair again today, and started browsing the latest data from MSL early this morning.  To my dismay, the post-drive images that we expected to receive in time for planning today were not available!  It turned out that the data were received on Earth, but the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter operations team had some problems processing and transferring it to us.  We waited as long as we could for the data needed to plan contact science or mobility activities, then decided that we should plan Sol 1350 without them because planning time is limited by the early uplink window--we have to have the plan ready to send to the rover by this evening.  Fortunately, the images needed to pick remote sensing targets were processed in time to point ChemCam and Mastcam at the outcrop in front of the rover.  Planning targeted remote sensing is much easier than planning contact science or mobility, so the Sol 1350 plan includes ChemCam/Mastcam observations of "Oamites," "Aruab" and "Hosabes" as well as Mastcam images of the Sun and distant crater rim and Navcam searches for clouds and dust devils.  Mastcam will also acquire calibration data at various times of day (temperatures), and CheMin will perform another analysis of the Lubango drill sample.  

Sol 1351 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Ridge chemistry (24 May 2016)

MSL is in a good position for contact science on the small ridge in front of the rover, so the Sol 1351 operations team decided to stay here and acquire chemical data.  First, CheMin will return the results of the latest analysis of the Lubango drill sample while ChemCam observes rock targets dubbed "Nauaspoort," "Tschudi" and "Kazungula."  The Right Mastcam will image Kazungula and Navcam will search for clouds, then the rover will take a short nap before acquiring a Mastcam mosaic of an outcrop at the western edge of the Naukluft Plateau.  Later in the afternoon, MAHLI images of bedrock near the small ridge ("Groendraai") and Nauaspoort (on the ridge) are planned.  The APXS will be placed on Groendraai for an evening integration, then on Nauaspoort for a longer, overnight integration.  It's been much easier for me as SOWG Chair today, as we have all the data we need for planning!

Sol 1352 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Scouting a path (25 May 2016)

We'd like to keep driving toward the southwest, but can't see all of the terrain ahead from our current location.  So the Sol 1352 plan includes a short drive to give us a better view.  Before the rover moves, Mastcam will acquire a large stereo mosaic of the "Breckhorn" ridge in front of the vehicle and extend the left Mastcam mosaic of the "Fracture Town" area to the west.  ChemCam and Mastcam will also observe a rock called "Tsongoari."  After the drive, images are planned that will hopefully allow the tactical team to find a safe path ahead.  It was an easy day for me as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead today, with only an end-of-drive MAHLI image and a MARDI twilight image.

Sols 1353-1354 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Clear sailing (26 May 2016) 

The Sol 1352 post-drive imaging shows that, while there are sandy ripples ahead, there are enough rocky patches that the rover should not have any problem driving toward the southwest.  This is what we were hoping, so we are planning to drive in that direction on Sol 1353.  But first, Mastcam will acquire stereo mosaics of the Murray-Stimson contact and a couple areas toward the west with nodular features.  After the drive, ChemCam will again autonomously measure the chemistry of a target selected by the AEGIS software.  

To get a head start on planning for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, two sols are being planned today.  We expect to receive the Sol 1352 data needed for planning the rest of the weekend tomorrow morning.  The Sol 1353 activities cannot be precisely targeted, so Navcam will look for clouds and Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere at various times that sol.  In addition, ChemCam will perform a routine calibration activity.  Once again it was an easy day for me as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead, with only the usual MARDI twilight image to plan.

Sol 1355-1357 update by Ryan Anderson: Coordinating with MRO (27 May 2016)

Our drive went well and Curiosity is now sitting on a nice patch of the Murray formation, putting us in a good position for a very busy holiday weekend! On Sol 1355, ChemCam has observations of the targets "Auchas", "Kaisosi", "Inamagando", and "Horingbaai". Mastcam will document those targets and then do some multispectral observations of the targets "Kunjas" and "Navachab", plus a mosaic of the contact between the Murray and Stimson units. Navcam will round out the science block with some atmospheric observations.

Sol 1356 was an unusual one, with a bunch of small science blocks spread throughout the day. These were to enable a series of measurements leading up to a coordinated set of observations in the afternoon between the instruments on the rover on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (Yes, this means a new HiRISE image of Curiosity is coming soon!)

First thing in the morning on Sol 1356, Mastcam and Navcam have a photometry observation. This is repeated a few hours later along with a multispectral Mastcam observation of the target "Inamagando". A few hours later, the photometry observation is repeated again (the idea is to see how the brightness changes as the sun angle changes) and ChemCam has a passive sky observation. Finally, there is another photometry observation, a Mastcam "sky survey" observation, and Mastcam "sky flats". These are followed by a long-distance ChemCam RMI image that I managed to squeeze into the plan. I am hoping that the similar time of day (and therefore similar lighting) will make it easier to compare the HiRISE and RMI images. After the RMI, Sol 1356 will wrap up with one final photometry observation.

On Sol 1357 we will drive again, followed by standard post-drive imaging. This plan will take us through the long weekend, so our next planning day will be on Tuesday.

Sol 1358 update by Ryan Anderson: A Simple Plan (31 May 2016)

Our activities over the weekend went well, and after a couple of complicated multi-sol plans we get to do a nice simple one-sol plan today! The Sol 1358 plan starts with ChemCam observations of the targets "Otiiha", "Otjihase", "Otjikoto", and "Otjimbingwe" to assess variations in the bedrock chemistry. Mastcam will document those targets, and then we will dump out our remaining Okoruso sample. APXS then has an overnight observation of the target "Oudam".

I was on downlink for ChemCam today, so while everyone was putting together the plan for today, I was busy analyzing the tons of great data that we got down over the long weekend!

Sol 1359 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Cleaning CHIMRA (1 June 2016)

The remaining Okoruso drill sample was successfully dumped onto the ground on Sol 1358, so MSL is ready for a new drill sample.  In preparation, the Sol 1359 plan includes an arm preload test on "Oudam," the next drill target, and cleaning out CHIMRA with imaging to verify that everything is clean.  Before all the arm activities, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe the Okoruso dump pile and a bedrock target named "Otjosondu."  The Left Mastcam will also acquire a 5x2 mosaic of the "Fraktuur Dorp" area and extend the "Hartmann's Valley" mosaic.  Late in the afternoon, when lighting will be better, MAHLI will acquire images of bedrock target "Onguati" and a full suite of images of the dump pile.  The APXS will then be placed on the dump pile for an overnight integration.  The tactical team did a great job of picking targets and preparing command sequences, so it was an easy day for me as SOWG Chair.

Sol 1360 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Preparing to drill (2 June 2016) 

Arm work continues to go well, so preparation for drilling and sample analysis is the focus of the Sol 1360 plan.  First, CheMin will dump the Lubango and Okoruso drill samples out of their cells.  Then ChemCam and Mastcam will observe a bright vein named "Charlottenfelder" and a bedrock target called "Chameis Bay" before arm activities resume.  MAHLI will take close-up images of the Oudam drill target and a single image of the "footprint" that APXS likely made on the Okoruso dump pile yesterday.  Overnight, CheMin will analyze an empty cell to provide a baseline measurement before receiving the new drill sample.  Early the next morning, before handover to the next plan, observations of the Sun and sky will measure dust in the atmosphere over the rover and search for clouds and dust devils.  The Right Mastcam will take a 10-image mosaic of the "Otjizonjati" outcrop northwest of the rover when it is well-illuminated by the morning sun.  Finally, the RMI will acquire a 5-image mosaic of part of Aeolis Mons (Mount Sharp) toward the south.  

Sols 1361-1363 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Drilling Oudam (3 June 2016)

The MSL Rover Planners have all the data they need to drill (no "mini-drill" required), so the plan for this weekend focuses on drilling into the Oudam bedrock target.  The full drill is scheduled for Sol 1361, followed by MAHLI and Mastcam images of the new hole.  The rover will then rest until Sol 1362, when the drill sample will be transferred to the scoop for Mastcam imaging and sieved.  A fine-grained (outcrop southeast of the rover.  In addition, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe a vein target named "Onganja" and a bedrock target dubbed "Ongeama," and Navcam will search for dust devils.  Another busy weekend for MSL!

Sols 1364-1365 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Analyzing drill sample (6 June 2016)

The Oudam drill campaign continues to go well, with sample acquired and ready for analysis.  Planning is now restricted, so we are planning 2 sols today.  On Sol 1364, ChemCam will acquire passive spectra of the drill tailings and a LIBS raster of the wall of the drill hole.  Later that afternoon, the unsieved portion of the drill sample will be dumped on the ground and imaged by MAHLI from 25 cm to support future planning.  After dark, MAHLI will take pictures of the inside of the drill hole, the tailings, and the CheMin inlet using its LEDs for illumination.  The APXS will then be placed on the drill tailings for an overnight integration.  

Early on Sol 1365, the Right Mastcam will extend the mosaic of Hartmann's Valley, adding 22 images.  That afternoon, the APXS will be retracted and vibrated to clean it, then the arm will be moved out of the way for ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the drill tailings.  Navcam will search for clouds both near the horizon and at zenith.  Finally, CheMin will analyze the drill sample overnight.

Sols 1366-1367 update by Lauren Edgar: Opportunistic contact science (8 June 2016)

The day started off with some changes to the sol path due to some holes in the downlink.  Unfortunately some engineering camera and MAHLI images from Sol 1364 were not fully transmitted, so the team worked quickly to rearrange the intended activities this week.  Fortunately that also meant that we could add in some opportunistic DRT, MAHLI and APXS activities on Sol 1366.

The two-sol plan starts off with ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the Oudam drill hole and tailings, and the nearby target "Omulonga." We’ll also acquire some Mastcam and Navcam observations to monitor the atmosphere.  In the afternoon of the first sol, we’ll use the DRT, MALHI and APXS to characterize the bedrock target "Aubures" to look for variations in texture and chemistry within the Murray formation.  On the second sol we’ll acquire a 360 degree Mastcam mosaic for geologic context, and a routine SAM electrical baseline test to monitor instrument health.  Hopefully the Navcam images will be retransmitted so we can continue with our drill site characterization activities later this week! 

Sols 1368-1370 update by Lauren Edgar: On the road again (10 June 2016)

We received the engineering data that we needed to proceed with the final science activities at the Oudam drill site.  Today’s plan is focused on analyzing the pre-sieve dump pile and getting on the road again.

The three-sol plan starts by moving the arm out of the way so we can target the workspace.  First we’ll acquire a ChemCam passive observation on the pre-sieve dump pile, followed by several ChemCam and Mastcam observations of nearby veins.  Then we’ll use all of the Mastcam filters to study the DRT target "Aubures," and we’ll acquire a Mastcam mosaic to document the local geology.  We’ll also target two areas to look for changes and the movement of fine-grained material.  Then we’ll move the arm back to the dump pile for MAHLI and APXS observations.  On the second sol we’ll use ChemCam to target the dump pile, and then we’ll drive away.  We’ll take our standard post-drive imaging, and an autonomously selected ChemCam target.  The third sol is devoted to ChemCam and Mastcam observations to monitor the chemistry and opacity of the atmosphere.

Sols 1371-1372 update by Lauren Edgar: Driving south (13 June 2016)

The weekend drive went well, and Curiosity drove ~ 32 m to the south.  This southward path will eventually take us through a gap in the active sand dunes that will be easier for Curiosity to traverse.  We’re planning another drive today, which will take us in the direction of the above Navcam image.

Today’s two-sol plan consists of several ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the Murray formation to assess variations in texture and chemistry.  We also planned a small Mastcam mosaic to document some nearby cross-stratification and nodules, and a small MAHLI mosaic of the target "Berg Aukas" before driving away.  After the drive, we’ll acquire our standard set of post-drive imaging for context and targeting.  The second sol includes a small untargeted science block, which we filled with a ChemCam autonomously selected target and a


See other posts from June 2016


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


spacekadet: 08/08/2016 09:06 CDT

I would like to know why Joe Knapp's positioning of the Curiosity rover is consistently different to the position posted by NASA. Also could you please say, with reference to the NASA satellite positioning, how far from the surface of Gale crater the image represents....i.e., would the distance be a mile from the surface, or closer?

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