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Emily LakdawallaFebruary 3, 2017

Curiosity update, sols 1548-1599: Serious drill brake problem as Curiosity drives through Murray red beds

Since my last update, the Curiosity mission has developed a better understanding of the problem that prevented them from drilling at Precipice, but its intermittent nature has slowed the development of a workable solution that will allow them to use the drill again. In the meantime, the rover has driven onward, making good use of its other instruments, but unfortunately passing by two locations (Precipice and one other) where drilling would have continued the team's rhythmic survey of the Murray mudstones.

The rover is now approaching a new band of active sand dunes, different from the ones explored at the northern edge of the dune field, and plans to spend several weeks in dune investigations, using the scoop to sample and deliver sand to CheMin and SAM. (Scooping activities are unaffected by the drill problems.) The time spent at the sand dunes will enable arm engineers to spend time troubleshooting the drill.

Here's are two of Phil Stooke's map sections covering the rover's recent peregrinations.

Phil Stooke's Curiosity route map: Sebina and Precipice, sols 1468-1574

NASA / JPL / UA / Phil Stooke

Phil Stooke's Curiosity route map: Sebina and Precipice, sols 1468-1574
Phil Stooke's Curiosity route map #38: Ireson Hill, Ogunquit Beach and southern Bagnold dunefield (sols 1576-1671)

NASA / JPL / UA / Phil Stooke

Phil Stooke's Curiosity route map #38: Ireson Hill, Ogunquit Beach and southern Bagnold dunefield (sols 1576-1671)

Drill brake problem summary

For context, this is what drilling on Mars is supposed to look like:

This sequence of images from the Front Hazard-Avoidance Camera on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the rover drilling into a rock target "Cumberland" on May 19, 2013.

NASA / JPL

Here is what the mission has had to say about the drill problems so far:

The original report on the problem, dated December 5:

The rover team learned Dec. 1 that Curiosity did not complete the commands for drilling. The rover detected a fault in an early step in which the "drill feed" mechanism did not extend the drill to touch the rock target with the bit." And: "Two among the set of possible causes being assessed are that a brake on the drill feed mechanism did not disengage fully or that an electronic encoder for the mechanism's motor did not function as expected. Lee said that workarounds may exist for both of those scenarios, but the first step is to identify why the motor did not operate properly last week. The drill feed mechanism pushes the front of the drill outward from the turret of tools at the end of Curiosity's robotic arm.

From an update January 17:

Rover engineers at JPL are determining the best way to resume use of the rover's drill, which began experiencing intermittent problems last month with the mechanism that moves the drill up and down during drilling.

From a report by Paul Voosen for Science Magazine published yesterday:

Since early December 2016, Curiosity hasn't been able to drill. The problem, likely a stuck brake on the mechanism for extending the drill bit, is serious. "There is apprehension," says Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity's project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. But the drill still responds intermittently. "We're not in a situation where it's completely dead."

As it happens, I was just writing about the drill for my book, so I had this diagram handy (it's slightly modified from one published in an article by Avi Okon et al., 2010, available for free here).

Mechanisms of Curiosity's drill

From Avi Okon et al. 2010

Mechanisms of Curiosity's drill
The drill bit assembly is a non-motorized drill, sleeve, and sample chamber. It can be swapped with two other drill bit assemblies carried in bit boxes on the rover. The drill chuck mechanism is used to exchange drill bit assemblies. The drill spindle, percussion, and feed mechanisms are required for drilling. The drill contact sensors/stabilizers press against the ground, holding the turret steady as the drill operates.

Drilling depends upon three motors in the drill. One, the drill spindle mechanism, rotates the drill. Another, the drill percussion mechanism, pounds on an anvil rod behind the drill 30 times a second in order to pulverize the rock below the drill bit. Finally, the drill feed mechanism moves the whole shebang (drill bit, spindle, and percussion components) along a set of linear rails to advance the drill into the ground. Earlier problems with the drill involved the percussion mechanism, and at Precipice the team was preparing to attempt rotation-only drilling, which might have been possible because of the general softness of the rock in Gale. But drilling will not work at all unless the drill feed mechanism can advance the drill into the ground. So this is a serious problem.

Engineers have zeroed in on the drill feed's brake mechanism. A brake is a an important component of the drill feed, because each time the drill is advanced, the mechanism needs to be held at its new position so that the recoil from all the percussion doesn't encourage the feed to move backwards. The drill feed mechanism has a power-off brake, meaning that when power is applied, the drill feed is allowed to move, but when the power is off, the drill feed is held at its current position.

There is no sensor within the drill feed motor to tell us whether or not the brake is working. How did they figure out the brake was the problem? Project scientist Ashwin Vasavada explained to me that the fault in the drill occurs practically instantaneously after the drill is commanded to advance. If the jam were elsewhere in the mechanism, the motor shaft would actually be able to turn through several rotations, winding up all the slack in all the gearing, before it came to a halt. But they have observed in testing that when the drill feed fails to work, it fails to work as soon as it's commanded to move.

The drill feed and the proper motion of its brake is such an important component that there is quite a lot of redundancy built into the motor. Engineer Louise Jandura explains in a 2010 article:

The windings of the motor are not fully redundant but again these elements are created by multiple physical wires terminated at multiple pins so a degraded torque capability would be available in the event of a problem. Each Arm actuator has a power-off brake that is mechanically engaged when non-powered to lock the motor rotor, preventing rotation. A brake solenoid is energized to release the motor. The brakes have redundant coils, each capable of releasing the brake, energized by separate brake drivers and separately cabled. All actuators with brakes on the Rover are configured with redundant solenoids.

In other words, there's a backup brake release if one of the brake release solendoids fails. Unfortunately, trying to use the backup solenoid has not helped -- the same intermittent problem occurs with the use of both brakes. That's one of the reasons they suspect some kind of debris deep within the drill feed mechanism, as Voosen wrote in his Science article.

What kinds of troubleshooting are they trying? They have tried pulling on the brake using one solenoid, the other, and both together. The latter does seem to help -- but it doesn't work 100 percent of the time. And using one solenoid sometimes causes it to release normally. Ashwin said: "We also are checking other variables, such as other details of how the brakes are commanded, how the motor is subsequently run, and whether there is any dependency on what else the rover is doing, or did recently.  So far no consistent pattern has emerged that points toward a recipe for use while drilling.  But this is the kind of work that is ongoing." You can be sure that "The project is working hard to characterize the behavior of the drill feed and determine a reliable way of using it during drilling."

The key is the word "reliable." Drilling doesn't just require releasing the brake once. The brake operates dozens of times during drilling, advancing the feed one or two millimeters at a time as the drill slowly penetrates the rock. They won't be able to drill until they can be reasonably sure they can get the drill to work to completion -- or at least to sufficient depth to collect sample, more than 2 centimeters into the rock.

All of which is to say: this is a serious problem, and it likely won't be solved quickly. On the other hand, the fact that the brake does sometimes respond normally to commands is good reason to be optimistic that a solution can be found. In the meantime, Curiosity will have to stick to scooping for samples and using its remote sensing and contact science instruments. And there is a lot more of Mount Sharp stratigraphy to climb. Curiosity will carry on walking up the stratigraphic column, and hopefully be ready with a really choice spot to drill when and if the drill is back in operation.

Other issues: ChemCam and REMS

Two other problems have cropped up recently -- one less serious, one more so. ChemCam has been "sick" and therefore not usable since sol 1585, but its checkups are going fine. The team has been working on diagnosing the issue and returning the instrument to normal operation; they shot their calibration target this morning so hopefully should be back in action very soon.

The more serious problem is with the REMS wind sensor. One of REMS' two wind sensors has not worked since landing day, and now the other one appears to have failed. The wind sensor on each boom relies on 12 tiny sensors connected to the boom with incredibly thin whiskery wires. They took photos of the REMS boom with MAHLI on sol 1572 that show no obvious signs of physical damage, so it's not clear what's wrong with the wind sensor, sadly. It is super unfortunate that this failure happened before they finished working in the Bagnold dune field.

Views of Curiosity REMS boom 1, sol 1572

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Views of Curiosity REMS boom 1, sol 1572
In an effort to diagnose a problem with Curiosity's forward-facing wind sensor, engineers commanded the rover to use its arm-mounted MAHLI camera to take views of all sides of the sensor on sol 1572 (January 7, 2017).

This has been a lengthy discussion of rover problems but the mission is rolling through a beautiful landscape with great cameras and a fully functional arm and contact science instruments, on the second of hopefully several extensions of its primary mission. Voosen mentions in his article that Curiosity's power output has degraded to 95 watts (it was 114 at landing), but the engineers have implemented a few improvements to how they predict Curiosity's energy consumption, so they make some of the difference back in increased efficiency.

Still, there is science (and pretty pictures too)

Here are a few lovely pictures from the recent traverse. First, an outcrop named Old Soaker that the team has decided represents preserved, lithified mudcracks. That's significant because it records a time when the waters that filled Gale crater receded from this location, drying up. But the lake must have refilled for these mudcracks to be buried and preserved. Lakes on Earth do that too, of course, with shifting seasons and/or variable weather.

Old Soaker - possible mud cracks?

NASA / JPL / MSSS

Old Soaker - possible mud cracks?
The network of cracks in this Martian rock slab called "Old Soaker" may have formed from the drying of a mud layer more than 3 billion years ago. The view spans about 1.2 meters left-to-right and combines three images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on sol 1566 (December 31, 2016). Mud cracks would be evidence of a time when dry intervals interrupted wetter periods that supported lakes in the area. Curiosity has found evidence of ancient lakes in older, lower-lying rock layers and also in younger mudstone that is above Old Soaker. The bright veins are filled with calcium sulfate. They likely formed after the sediment had already turned to rock, suggesting more than one generation of fracturing. For more information, visit JPL's website.

The Murray formation is so colorful around here, much redder, in a way that reminds me of the Triassic "red beds" of the western United States. I could've picked any of a large number of outcrops to show you -- I chose this one because of its name. Curiosity would have drilled in this outcrop or one of the other outcrops nearby if the drill were working, but they settled for MAHLI and APXS (not even ChemCam was available for this one, sadly).

Misery outcrop, Curiosity sol 1591

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Misery outcrop, Curiosity sol 1591
Finely laminated rocks of the Murray formation greeted Curiosity at the end of its drive on sol 1591 (January 27, 2017). The bright veins are filled with calcium sulfate.

Lately, Curiosity has been approaching this interesting-looking mound called Ireson Hill. It's sort of butte-like, but it doesn't appear to have a coherent layer of cap rock. Rather, it just seems to be capped by a rock jumble. It's odd looking, but if you look at the other more normal-looking buttes in the distance, you can see how Ireson Hill would be what you'd get if a butte's caprock completely eroded away and all you had were its jumbled flanks. I love how colorful the rocks are here. I mean, they're all shades of brown, but there are bluer, yellower, and redder rocks here -- a complete rainbow of browns!

Ireson Hill, Curiosity sol 1590

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Damia Bouic

Ireson Hill, Curiosity sol 1590
Ireson Hill is a lonely mound to the south of the Murray Buttes. Dark-colored massive blocks of rock (likely of the Stimson formation) tumble down over colorful Murray mudstones. In the distance, similar buttes retain a more coherent dark capping rock.

We've gotten closer to Ireson Hill since that panorama. It's very starkly pretty in Navcam views, though you lose that striking color.

Ireson Hill, Curiosity sol 1598

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Seán Doran

Ireson Hill, Curiosity sol 1598
Almost swallowed by sand, Ireson Hill stands next to the southern, linear stretch of the Bagnold dune field.

Here is a stunning view of the road ahead, generated from HiRISE image and topographic data by Sean Doran. Scroll down and you'll see I've marked some of the recent landmarks.

Mount Sharp northwest flank

Seán Doran using HiRISE data (NASA / JPL / UA)

Mount Sharp northwest flank
A simulated view of the northwest flank of Mount Sharp using images and digital terrain models from HiRISE. The view is toward the southwest. It covers Curiosity's path from the Murray Buttes in the foreground, to the southern extent of the Bagnold dune field in the middle ground, and the Hematite Ridge beyond it. Beyond Hematite Ridge, the landscape steepens dramatically. For an enormous version of this image, visit Doran's Flickr page.
Mount Sharp northwest flank (annotated)

Seán Doran using HiRISE data (NASA / JPL / UA) / Emily Lakdawalla

Mount Sharp northwest flank (annotated)

Those views make it very clear how Curiosity is approaching a section of the Bagnold dunes where the dune is linear, unlike the barchans it investigated before at Namib dune. My next update will come in a couple of months, after Curiosity has completed work scuffing, scooping, and sampling at this new section of dunes. Best wishes to the engineering team for a productive couple of months developing a solution to the drill feed problem!

Here are all the USGS Astrogeology news updates for the period covered in this blog post.

Sols 1548-1549 update by Ryan Anderson: Still at Precipice (12 December 2016)

Unfortunately, one of the drill diagnostics early in the plan indicated a problem, which prevented most of the other activities for the weekend (including the arm motion and drive) from happening. So that means that for the Sol 1548-1549 plan the rover is still sitting at Precipice. In addition to more drill diagnostics, ChemCam has a long-distance RMI mosaic of “Ireson Hill”, as well as two additional observations of the target “Blue Hill”. Mastcam will document the Blue Hill observations, and take an image of a butte named “Oak Hill”.

Meanwhile, the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting is happening this week, so many scientists on the team (your trusty bloggers included!) are either in San Francisco or on their way here. Tomorrow morning is the main session discussing the latest Curiosity results, and there will be a press conference at 11:30am (California time) that you can watch live!

Sols 1550-1551 update by Ken Herkenhoff: More drill testing (14 December 2016)

Use of the arm and driving remain off limits while the drill continues to be diagnosed.  The 2-sol plan starts with ChemCam and Right Mastcam observations of bright vein targets dubbed "Bear Brook" and "Canon Brook."  MARDI will take images during both morning and evening twilight to look for changes due to winds.  Remote sensing on Sol 1551 will include ChemCam, Navcam and Mastcam observations of the sky and Sun at a couple times of day, and a set of ChemCam calibration activities. 

Meanwhile, the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco is going well, with lots of interest in Mars rover results, especially from Curiosity.  About 26,000 geoscientists are attending the meeting, with speeches today by California Governor Jerry Brown and U. S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell.  It's been an exciting week so far!

Sols 1552-1554 update by Ryan Anderson: Diagnostics, science, and a drive (16 December 2016)

The engineering team is still hard at work diagnosing our drill issues, but in the meantime we are still getting good science done. The Sol 1552 plan starts off with ChemCam observations of the targets “Hall Quarry” and “Long Porcupine”. Mastcam will document those targets and then do a multispectral observation of “Western Head”. Mastcam also has an image of the rover deck, and Navcam will watch for dust devils. There will also be some drill diagnostics on Sol 1552. 

 After sitting in the same spot for so long, it will be nice on Sol 1553 when we retract the arm and drive to an interesting area about 10 meters away. After the drive we are planning post-drive imaging and a MARDI image of the ground under the rover. Sol 1554 is an untargeted sol, with Navcam and Mastcam atmospheric observations.

Sols 1555-1557 update by Ryan Anderson: Lots of Targets! (19 December 2016)

Our short drive over the weekend went well, and we are now at a new location with plenty of science targets to choose from. It’s been quite a while since we had a plan with this many new target names! The Sol 1555 plan starts off with a remote sensing science block. Navcam and Mastcam both have atmospheric observations, and then ChemCam will analyze four targets: “Somes Sound”, “Schoodic Peninsula”, “South Bubble”, and “Schooner Head”. Mastcam then has a bunch of mosaics covering the targets “Old Soaker”, “Squid Cove”, “Sieur de Monts”, “Goat Trail” and “Bald Peak”.

Later on Sol 1555, we are planning a short “bump” to position the rover for possible contact science. After the bump, we’ll collect some post-drive images to help with targeting. On Sol 1556 Navcam has an atmospheric observation to watch for clouds, and on Sol 1557 we have a routine engineering diagnostic activity for the Hazcams, but otherwise Sols 1556 and 1557 are pretty quiet.

Sols 1556-1568 update by Lauren Edgar: Preparing for the holidays (21 December 2016)

Today was our last tactical planning day before the team takes a break over the holidays.  But that doesn’t mean that Curiosity will be resting!  A group of science team members and operations staff assembled an 8-sol plan that will execute over December 22-30, focused on environmental monitoring and change detection.  Today’s tactical planning was aimed at creating a 3-sol plan that will take place over New Year’s, from December 31- January 2.  When we return to normal operations on January 3, we’ll dive right back in to a campaign investigating some interesting fracture patterns at “Old Soaker,” seen in the Mastcam image above.

Today’s 3-sol plan starts with Mastcam multispectral observations of the targets “Old Soaker” and “Schooner Head” to assess their red and gray color variations.  This is followed by a Navcam observation to search for dust devils.  Then ChemCam will target “Moore Harbor” and “Northeast Harbor” to look for variations in chemistry.  In the afternoon, we’ll use MAHLI to investigate the grain size and sedimentary structures at “Bar Island,” Thompson Island,” and “Mill Field,” and overnight we’ll let APXS integrate on “Mill Field” and “Thompson Island.”  On the second sol, we’ll move the APXS to “Bar Island” for an overnight integration, along with a SAM electrical baseline test.  On the third sol we’ll retract the arm to enable additional remote sensing of the workspace, including ChemCam on “Goose Cove,” “Deep Cove,” and “Dix Point,” a small Mastcam mosaic, and some environmental monitoring observations.  It should be a busy week for Curiosity, and I’m looking forward to seeing all of the exciting data that she’ll collect while the team is enjoying a break.  It’s been quite the year for our rover: we have drilled six holes, performed two scoops, driven 3 km, and climbed 85 vertical meters!  I can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring. This will be the last blog until January 3 when we resume normal operations.  Until then – may your sols be merry and bright, and safe travels as you rove into the New Year!

Sol 1569 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Back to daily planning (3 January 2017)

The MSL operations team is back at work after the holiday break, planning Sol 1569.  The activities planned for the holidays executed well, so we are proceeding with the investigation of the ridge/fracture patterns at Old Soaker.  First, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe the ridges at "Beech Mountain" and Navcam will search for clouds.  Then MAHLI will take close-up images of a grey patch named "Eagle Lake" and a full suite of images of Beech Mountain.  MAHLI will also acquire images from 25 cm and 5 cm of an area without ridge patterns dubbed "Hodgdon Pond" and another interesting feature called "Huguenot Head," as well as a single oblique image of "Squeaker Cove" from 15 cm.  The APXS will be placed on Beech Mountain for a short integration, then on Eagle Lake for an overnight integration.  Lots of good contact science to start the new year!

Sol 1570 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Finishing up at Old Soaker (4 January 2017)

The focus of the Sol 1570 plan is to finish our work at Old Soaker.  The APXS will be retracted and the arm moved out of the way for ChemCam and Right Mastcam observations of Huguenot Head and ChemCam measurements of a dark grey patch called "Valley Cove" and another observation of Deep Cove.  Navcam will search for dust devils, then the rover will briefly rest and recharge before deploying the arm for more contact science.  MAHLI will acquire a full suite of images of Valley Cove and a couple close-up images of "Fresh Meadow."  Fresh Meadow is a new target near Eagle Lake, which was not well centered on the grey material of interest in this area.  The APXS will be placed on Fresh Meadow for a short integration, then on Valley Cove for an overnight integration.  If all of this goes well, we will be ready to drive away from Old Soaker on Sol 1571. 

Sol 1571 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Leaving Old Soaker (5 January 2017)

The investigation of Old Soaker continues to go well, so we're planning to drive away on Sol 1571.  But first, ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe darker bedrock patches named "Gilley Field" and "Fresh Meadow" and a dark clast called "North Bubble."  Mastcam will also acquire a multispectral set of images of a dark spherule dubbed "Greening Island" before the drive.  After the drive, the arm will be unstowed to allow Navcam and Left Mastcam to take pictures of the area in front of the rover to aid planning for this weekend.  Navcam will search for dust devils and clouds, then the rover will sleep overnight and recharge her batteries. 

Sols 1572-1574 update by Ken Herkenhoff: New diagnostics (6 January 2017)

MSL drove nearly 17 meters on Sol 1571, to a location with bedrock outcrops in the arm workspace.  So the weekend plan includes lots of arm work as well as remote observations.  On Sol 1572, MAHLI will take images of the REMS booms to diagnose recent problems with the wind sensors.  Some of the wind sensors on one boom have not functioned since landing, and sensors on the other boom have been acting up lately.  Later that afternoon, MAHLI will take a couple images of a yellow/red color boundary at "Greenstone" and a full suite of images of a yellow bedrock target named "Isle Au Haut."  The APXS will then be placed on Isle Au Haut for an overnight integration.  Early on the morning of Sol 1573, Navcam will search for clouds and Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the air by imaging the Sun and the distant crater rim.  These dust measurements will be repeated at two other times of day later that sol.  Later that morning, ChemCam will acquire passive (no laser) observations of its calibration target.  Then the arm will go to work again to perform new diagnostic tests of the drill feed mechanism, to help us understand whether the drill feed stall is more sensitive to rotary-only or percussive drilling.  The test data acquired to date indicate an intermittent problem with the internal brake within the motor that feeds the drill forward and backward relative to the rest of the turret.  Fortunately, we are able to do everything except drilling while the investigation continues, but the team has decided not to try again to drill at Precipice, and to continue driving up the flank of Aeolis Mons ("Mount Sharp"). 

After the drill tests, ChemCam will perform some more calibration activities, and acquire LIBS data on Greenstone and a bedrock exposure called "Birch Harbor Mountain."  The Right Mastcam will then image these targets and bright vein targets dubbed "Tarrantine" and "Flying Mountain."  On Sol 1574, ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe Isle Au Haut before the rover drives away.  After the drive, the arm will be unstowed and Navcam will take a stereo pair of images of the arm workspace to set us up for possible contact science on Sol 1575.  It will be another busy weekend for our intrepid rover!

Sol 1575 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Investigating Dorr Mountain (9 January 2017)

After a 25-meter drive on Sol 1574, MSL again has bedrock exposed in her arm workspace.  To balance desires to sample the composition of the rocks along the traverse and to make good progress toward the south, contact science and another drive are both planned for Sol 1575.  First, MAHLI will acquire a full suite of images of a knobbly bedrock target named "Dorr Mountain."  Then the arm will be stowed to allow ChemCam to observe the same target and for the Right Mastcam to acquire a 5x2 mosaic of the Dorr Mountain area.  Navcam will search for dust devils before the drive begins.  After the drive, the arm will be unstowed to allow Navcam stereo imaging of the arm workspace, in anticipation of another "touch and go" plan tomorrow.

Sol 1576 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Arm fault (10 January 2017)

MSL planning started 2 hours later than usual today because the Sol 1575 data needed for planning weren't expected until almost 10 AM PST.  Unfortunately, the news was not good:  An arm fault prevented the MAHLI full suite from completing, leaving the camera close to the surface with its dust cover open.  The remote science and drive that were planned to follow were also precluded.  Fortunately, this fault has occurred before and is well understood, but recovering from the anomaly made for a rather hectic day for me as SOWG Chair!  The first order of business was to get MAHLI into a safe configuration, so the Sol 1576 plan starts with a single MAHLI image to look for evidence of dust on the exposed optics.  Front Hazcam images will be taken before and after MAHLI is retracted from the surface, then Right Mastcam will take a picture of MAHLI's optics, again to look for dust contamination.  Finally, the MAHLI dust cover will be closed and APXS placed on Dorr Mountain for a short integration.  The arm will then be stowed and Right Mastcam will acquire a 5x1 mosaic of a distant mesa named "Lobster Mountain."  ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe Dorr Mountain and a bedrock target dubbed "Parkman Mountain," and Left Mastcam will take another image of the rover deck to monitor changes in the dust and sand on the deck.  Mastcam will also measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere before the drive is attempted again.  We don't expect as much data as usual in time for planning the next Sol, so we had to carefully prioritize the post-drive imaging, which includes another Navcam stereo pair of the arm workspace.  Later in the Sol, ChemCam will autonomously observe a target selected by the AEGIS software.  Finally, the rover will recharge overnight to get ready for more fun on Sol 1577.

Sol 1577 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Another touch and go (11 January 2017)

MSL drove almost 30 meters on Sol 1576, stopping in a location with a nice exposure of bedrock in the arm workspace.  MAHLI's optics look clean, so we planned a full suite of MAHLI images and a short APXS integration on a bedrock target named "Mansell Mountain."  Fitting the remote sensing observations we wanted, along with the contact science and a ~46-meter drive, into the Sol 1577 plan was a challenge.  But the tactical team did a great job, working together to put together an excellent plan.  After the contact science is completed, ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe an odd cobble called "Ames Knob" and a bedrock target dubbed "Day Mountain."  Left Mastcam will acquire a 2-image mosaic of the bedrock slab in front of the rover, and Right Mastcam will take an image of the Sol 1576 AEGIS target and a 4x1 mosaic of a layered exposure named "Appleton Ridge."  After the drive and the post-drive imaging needed to plan Sol 1578 activities, Navcam will acquire a panorama and search for dust devils and clouds.  It's been a busy day for me as SOWG Chair!

Sol 1578 update by Lauren Edgar: Investigating sedimentary structures (12 January 2017)

Curiosity had a successful drive of 45 m on Sol 1577.  We’re continuing to characterize the Murray formation by investigating changes in composition and sedimentary structures as we ascend Mt. Sharp.  Today’s plan provided another opportunity for touch and go contact science, starting with MAHLI imaging of the “Megunticook” outcrop.  This outcrop shows some interesting textures, as seen in the above Navcam image.  After MAHLI imaging of the outcrop, we’ll acquire ChemCam LIBS on the same target.  Then Mastcam will be used to document the outcrop and look for changes in texture, as well as to provide some stereo data for structural measurements.  After a ~35 m drive, Curiosity will take post-drive imaging for context and targeting.  The plan also includes an overnight SAM experiment to investigate methane in the atmosphere.

Sols 1579-1582 update by Ken Herkenhoff: A 4-sol plan (13 January 2017)

 After a 25-meter drive on Sol 1578, MSL is surrounded by more dark sand than usual, but there is enough rock exposed that we had a lot of science targets to choose from today.  Due to the US holiday on Monday, we are planning 4 sols today.  The first sol will include only REMS atmospheric observations while the rover recharges after the SAM methane measurement the night before, but the rest of the plan is packed!  Sol 1580 starts with ChemCam passive (no laser) measurements of the sky and calibration targets.  Then we'll use the laser to zap rock targets "Oak Bay" and "Rockport" and take Right Mastcam images of them.  Mastcam will also acquire a mosaic of bedrock exposures just west of the rover, measure dust in the atmosphere, and take another image of the rover deck.  Later that afternoon, ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe disturbed sand at "Kennebec," an undisturbed ripple called "Spruce Top," and bedrock targets named "Traveler" and "Mars Hill."  Right Mastcam will also acquire a 3x1 mosaic of a more distant outcrop dubbed "Ogler Point." 

Sol 1581 is dominated by contact science, starting with full suite of MAHLI images of Mars Hill.  MAHLI will also take close-up images of nearby "Camera Hill" and acquire a 3-image mosaic of the layered outcrop target "Small Falls."  The APXS will be placed on Camera Hill for a short integration, then on Mars Hill for an overnight integration. 

On Sol 1582, Navcam will search for clouds and dust devils before the rover drives away.  After the drive, AEGIS will again be used to autonomously select a ChemCam target and acquire data, and MARDI will take another image during twilight.  Finally, the rover will get some well-earned rest overnight.

Sol 1583 update by Lauren Edgar: Driving and remote sensing (17 January 2017)

The 4-sol weekend plan went well, and Curiosity drove ~ 44 m further to the south.  I was the GKOP today and it was a fairly straightforward plan focused on driving and remote sensing. We’re in late slide sols this week, which means that today we started 2 hours later than usual to wait for critical images to come down.  The plan starts with two ChemCam observations of the target “Benner Hill” to investigate the chemistry and color variations around a vein.  We also planned a small Mastcam mosaic to document the bedrock as we continue climbing Mt. Sharp.  Then Curiosity will drive, and we’ll take post-drive imaging for context and targeting.  We’re also planning some workspace imaging to prepare for possible APXS and MAHLI in tomorrow’s plan.  Later in the afternoon ChemCam will take an autonomously selected AEGIS observation, and MARDI will take a systematic image to document the terrain beneath the rover.  We’ll also use Mastcam to monitor atmospheric opacity.  I’ll be on duty again tomorrow, so I’m hoping for some interesting outcrop in the workspace after today’s drive.

Sol 1584 update by Lauren Edgar: Touch and go at Frost Pond (18 January 2017)

On Sol 1583 Curiosity drove 16 m, which set us up for touch-and-go contact science today.  I was the GKOP again, and it was a fun day of planning contact science and remote sensing.  The plan starts with a short APXS integration on the target “Frost Pond,” (seen in the middle of the above Navcam image) to investigate the chemistry of a typical Murray bedrock block.  Then we’ll take a full suite of MAHLI images on the same target.  Later in the plan we’ll acquire a ChemCam observation of “Frost Pond” for comparison, and we’ll also take a Mastcam image for documentation.  We’ll also acquire a small Mastcam mosaic of “Burnt Brook” to investigate some color variations, and a Navcam observation to search for dust devils.  After another drive, we’ll take post-drive imaging for targeting.  Later in the afternoon we’ll use Mastcam to monitor the movement of fines on the rover deck and take a systematic clast survey, and ChemCam will take another AEGIS observation.

Sol 1585 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Examining "Jewell" (19 January 2017)

After a 31-meter drive on Sol 1584, MSL is in position for contact science on a block of bedrock in front of the rover.  So, as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead today I focused on planning a full suite of MAHLI images of a target named "Jewell" that appears to expose sedimentary structures.  The Sol 1585 plan also includes ChemCam and Right Mastcam observations of Jewell, a single Right Mastcam image of another bedrock exposure dubbed "Bernard Mountain," and a Navcam dust devil survey.  The rover will then drive again and acquire images in the new location.  Later in the afternoon, Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere and Navcam will search again for dust devils.  After the usual MARDI twilight image is taken, ChemCam will perform some calibration activities at various temperatures. 

Sols 1586-1588 update by Ken Herkenhoff: ChemCam sick (20 January 2017)

MSL drove another 13 meters on Sol 1585, again placing the rover in a good position for contact science.  But the telemetry also showed that ChemCam had been marked "sick," so we will not be able to use ChemCam this weekend while the problem is diagnosed.  The weekend plan is still pretty full, though!  First, on Sol 1586, Right Mastcam will acquire small mosaics of nearby rocks named "Bell Brook," "Blind Brook," and "Beck Pond," then Left Mastcam will take another image of the rover deck to look for changes in the dust and sand on the deck.  The rover will rest until late that afternoon, when the illumination will be good for MAHLI imaging.  MAHLI will take a single image before the DRT is used to brush off a bedrock target dubbed "Belle Lake," then take a full suite of images (plus extra stereo images) of the brushed spot.  MAHLI will also acquire a full suite of images of another bedrock target called "Bluffer Pond" before the APXS is placed on the same target for a short integration.  Just before midnight, the APXS will be placed on Belle Lake for a longer integration.  On Sol 1587, the arm will be retracted and stowed to allow Mastcam to acquire a full multispectral set of images of Belle Lake.  Navcam will search for dust devils before the next drive.  In addition to the standard post-drive activities, the arm will be unstowed to allow Navcam to take stereo images of the new arm workspace.  MARDI will take images during twilight on Sols 1587 and 1588 to look for any changes due to winds.  Navcam will again search for dust devils on Sol 1588, and CheMin will perform some maintenance activities overnight. 

Sols 1589-1590 update by Ryan Anderson: Team Meeting (23 January 2017)

This week most of the Curiosity team is headed out to California for a team meeting. I’m not at the meeting because I have a new baby at home, so I’ll be following along remotely!

Even though there’s a team meeting this week, we’re still keeping the rover busy. Over the weekend the rover drove ~28 meters, and the plan for Sol 1589 continues our slow ascent of Mt. Sharp. ChemCam is still marked “sick” while we sort out the error that occurred last week, so the Sol 1589 science block is heavy on Mastcam. After Navcam does an observation to watch for dust devils, Mastcam will collect mosaics of the targets “Cape Elizabeth”, “Mount Battle”, “Mount Blue”, and “Hematite Ridge”. After that, APXS will measure the composition of “Cape Elizabeth” and MAHLI will take supporting pictures. Once the arm activity is done the rover will drive about 30 meters, squeezing between a couple of large rocks, toward some bedrock that looks good for more contact science. After the drive, we’ll do some post-drive imaging.

Sol 1590 will start with an early morning Mastcam mosaic of the north face of “Ireson Hill”, and then the rest of the day will be dedicated to Navcam and Mastcam atmospheric observations.

Sols 1591-1592 update by Ryan Anderson: Early Wheel Check-Up (25 January 2017)

The Sol 1589-1590 plan went well, with a successful ~31 meter drive. ChemCam remains “sick” and some diagnostic activities are being planned for the weekend plan. We are approaching the Bagnold Dunes, so in order to save time and allow more room for science activities at the dunes, today’s plan does not include a drive. Instead, we will do a MAHLI check-up of the wheels. Before checking on the wheels, the Sol 1591 plan starts with APXS and MAHLI of the bedrock target “Munsungun”, followed by Mastcam of “Daniel Island” and “Chapman”. After the MAHLI images of the wheels, we will do a short “bump” drive to get in position for weekend science.

SAM will do an evolved gas experiment overnight, and then on Sol 1592 Navcam has a dust devil search and Mastcam has some multispectral images of Hematite Ridge. Mastcam also has a small stereo mosaic of “Maple Mountain”.

Sols 1593-1595 update by Lauren Edgar: Dead River, Misery, and Boil Mountain? (27 January 2017)

Looks like the team had some fun using the less desirable names for rock targets in today’s plan!  These are all named after rock formations and geologic features from Bar Harbor, Maine.  MSL drove another 8 meters on Sol 1591, and we’ll continue to drive in the weekend plan.  The three-sol plan starts with a few data management activities for Mastcam and MAHLI, and a recovery sequence to restart ChemCam after it has been marked sick.  Then we’ll take some Mastcam mosaics of “Dead River” and “Boil Mountain” to investigate laminations within the Murray formation and provide some context imaging of the “Misery” outcrop.  Then we’ll use MAHLI and APXS to study “Misery” and “Dead River,” with an overnight APXS integration on “Misery.”   On the second sol Curiosity will wake up early for some environmental monitoring observations, including some Navcam movies and Mastcam imaging to assess atmospheric opacity.  We’ll also take another Mastcam mosaic of “Ireson Hill” to document the stratigraphy with long baseline stereo imaging.  The third sol includes additional environmental monitoring, a drive, post-drive imaging for targeting, and preparing for more contact science.  Curiosity will also perform a SAM evolved gas experiment to use the residual derivatization vapor in the sample manipulation system.  I’ll be on duty next week so I’m getting caught up on Curiosity’s activities.  Let’s hope we can leave the “Misery” behind us next week! 

Sols 1596-1597 update by Lauren Edgar: Approaching the dunes for round two (30 January 2017)

Over the weekend, Curiosity drove an additional ~ 26 meters to the southwest, as we prepare for another investigation of the active sand dunes.  We’re still a few more drives away from the dunes, but looking forward to the next campaign.  I was the GSTL today, and we planned some contact science and Mastcam imaging and another drive.  The plan starts with a short APXS integration and MAHLI imaging of “Isleboro” to characterize the composition, grain size, and sedimentary structures exposed in a typical block of the Murray formation.  Then we’ll use Mastcam to document some color variations and stratification at “Parker Bog,” and to assess fracture patterns at “Jim Pond.” We’ll also take a Mastcam image to monitor the deck and characterize the movement of fines.  And ChemCam will continue its recovery activities with a LIBS observation of the titanium calibration target.  Then Curiosity will drive further to the southwest, and acquire post-drive imaging for context and targeting, including an upper tier Navcam frame to prepare for more imaging of “Ireson Hill” (seen in the above Mastcam image from Sol 1590).  The second sol is devoted to environmental monitoring, with Mastcam and Navcam observations to assess dust in the atmosphere and search for dust devils.

Sols 1598-1599 update by Lauren Edgar: Imaging Ireson Hill (1 February 2017)

The drive on Sol 1598 went well, and Curiosity drove ~21 m to the southwest, providing a great view of “Ireson Hill,” seen in the above Navcam image.  Today’s two-sol plan looks pretty similar to the last.  We’ll start with MAHLI and APXS of the target “Digdeguah” to investigate typical local bedrock with some exposed stratification.  Then ChemCam will continue its recovery activities with an RMI observation of the titanium calibration target.  We’ll use Mastcam to acquire a large mosaic of “Ireson Hill” to characterize the contact and color variations exposed on the south side of this feature.  The team also planned a Mastcam mosaic of the “Allsbury” area to document the contact science target and fracture patterns, as well as a Mastcam tau to characterize atmospheric opacity.  Then Curiosity will drive further to the southwest, and will take post-drive imaging to prepare for more contact science in the weekend plan.  The second sol is devoted to environmental monitoring and a SAM measurement of the atmosphere.

Read more: pretty pictures, mission status, Mars, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory)

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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