Emily LakdawallaAug 07, 2012

Curiosity sol 1 and planned activities for the next few sols

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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