Ken HerkenhoffFeb 04, 2014

Curiosity update, sols 521-533: Assessing Dingo Gap

Editor's note: This blog is reposted with permission from the United States Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center website. Images have been added by me. My favorite place to browse these images is My favorite place to follow the rover's driving progress is Read this for an introduction to Herkenhoff's blog posts. --ESL

Sol 521: Benign Terrain (23 January 2014)

After confirming that the terrain ahead was suitable for acquiring another full set of wheel images, the Sol 521 plan focused on MAHLI and MARDI images of the wheels separated by 31-centimeter bumps. These images have been useful in evaluating wheel wear as the rover traverses rocky terrain. MARDI images are now taken at each step to better characterize the terrain at millimeter scales. So it was a relatively busy day for me as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead. By reducing the number of wheel imaging locations from 6 to 5, we were able to squeeze a 10-meter drive into the plan as well. Fortunately, we have been driving across more benign terrain this week, and I'm expecting that this new set of wheel images will show minimal additional damage.

Soil under Curiosity, sol 521 MARDI panorama
Soil under Curiosity, sol 521 MARDI panorama This unusual panorama was acquired on Curiosity sol 521 as the rover drove forward in short steps in order to image the wheels. At each step, MARDI snapped a photo. MARDI's optics are covered with dust from the landing, but it still provides a good view of the pebbled surface beneath the rover.Image: NASA / JPL / MSSS / "Greenish"

Sol 522: Close-up on Wheels (24 January 2014)

MAHLI images of the wheels were successfully acquired on Sol 521, followed by an 11-meter drive. We used the images taken after the drive to target ChemCam and Mastcam observations for Sol 522, and planned a MAHLI stowed image before the next drive. The Sol 522 drive distance is expected to be about 22 meters, and will be followed by the usual imaging of the new location to enable planning 3 sols tomorrow morning.

Sol 523 - 525: Heading for the Chute (25 January 2014)

Late yesterday, the strategic drive team decided that it would be best to head west, through the chute, because the terrain beyond appears safer for driving. So the Sol 522 drive (toward the south) was pulled from the plan and the rover stayed put. The plan for the weekend includes targeted remote sensing and contact science on Sol 523, wheel imaging and an approximately 24-meter drive on Sol 524, and a SAM measurement of the atmospheric composition on Sol 525. It was a busy day for me as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead, as we considered various MAHLI activities and tried to fit them into the plan. We ended up with MAHLI images and an APXS measurement on a rock dubbed "King" as well as the usual post-drive MAHLI image from the stowed position.

The smaller rover Opportunity landed on Mars 10 years ago, and is still operating, gathering excellent scientific data. Because I was scheduled on MSL operations today, I was not able to call in to the Opportunity SOWG meeting today. But I saw a lot of good email and web traffic on the subject and celebrated with the Opportunity team members that were also working MSL operations. What an incredible mission!

Sol 526: Dingo Gap (27 January 2014)

The weekend activities went well, and lots of post-drive images were received, allowing planning of multiple arm activities on Sol 526. MAHLI and APXS observations of a rock named Reedy are planned, as well as MAHLI images of REMS hardware and the wheels. Then a drive of about 15 meters is planned, toward the chute that is now named Dingo Gap. Images of Dingo Gap taken after the drive will be used to determine whether the rover should continue in this direction.

Sol 527: Over the Dune? (28 January 2014)

MSL drove about 15 meters toward Dingo Gap and returned post-drive images that were used to plan ChemCam RMI and Mastcam images from the new location. The Sol 527 plan also includes another drive toward Dingo Gap and reprocessing of some CheMin data. The post-drive data will be used to determine which way to go on Sol 528, in particular whether to drive over the dune in the gap.

Sol 528: Looking Back at Purgatory Dune (29 January 2014)

In order to learn more about the sand dune in Dingo Gap, the rover will be commanded to drive up to it on Sol 528. Mobility tests on terrestrial sand dunes show that MSL can climb dunes, but we don't yet know that the feature in front of MSL is sandy throughout. Opportunity got stuck in Purgatory Dune for a few weeks, in part because it contained more fine grained dust than typical terrestrial dunes. So MSL will study the interior structure of the Martian dune before driving over it. There is also a concern that Dingo Gap is deep enough that radio communications directly to/from Earth via the high gain antenna may be affected, so post-drive images looking over the dune into the gap are planned to better assess the terrain.

Curiosity Mastcam panorama of the valley beyond Dingo Gap, sol 528
Curiosity Mastcam panorama of the valley beyond Dingo Gap, sol 528 Curiosity captured the 16 images for this panorama on sol 528 (January 30, 2014). It offers a long view down into a valley to the west.Image: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Sol 529: The Scuff (30 January 2014)

At the end of the Sol 528 drive, the rover "scuffed" the dune with its right front wheel, then backed away and took images of the scuff. These images were used to confirm that the arm instruments can be placed in the scuff, to examine the freshly-exposed material within the dune. So no rover motion is required for contact science, and ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the scuff and vicinity were added to the Sol 529 plan. Another set of Mastcam and MAHLI images of the wheels are also planned, along with more reprocessing of CheMin data. After sunset, Mastcam will take a picture of Earth, currently an "evening star" in Mars' sky.

Curiosity wheel panorama, sol 529
Curiosity wheel panorama, sol 529 As Curiosity approached Dingo Gap, it was taking images of the wheels following every drive in order to monitor wheel degradation. Here, the wheels have picked up sand from the sand drift across Dingo Gap.Image: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Damia Bouic

Sol 530 - 532: Going for It (3 February 2014)

Using the images acquired of Dingo Gap beyond the dune, it appears that the gap can be safely traversed, and the Project decided to drive through the gap. But first, the weekend plan included lots of targeted science observations on Sol 530, APXS and MAHLI observations of the dune inside and outside of the scuff on Sol 531, and a set of wheel images in four positions on Sol 532.

Sol 533: Toe Dip (4 February 2014)

The initial "toe dip" into the dune in Dingo Gap was planned for Sol 533. If it goes well, the rover will be commanded to cross the dune, probably on the left (south) side, on Sol 534. I'm catching up on the latest MSL plans after spending the day working MER tactical operations as MI/engineering camera uplink lead. Opportunity is also planning a short drive, followed by imaging of the previous rover location to determine whether the rover wheels dislodged and flipped over the unique-looking rock, Pinnacle Island.

View from the top of the Dingo Gap Dune, Curiosity sol 533
View from the top of the Dingo Gap Dune, Curiosity sol 533 On sol 533 Curiosity performed a "toe dip" onto the dune across Dingo Gap, giving the rover a slightly better view down into the valley beyond.Image: NASA / JPL / Damia Bouic

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