SpaceJibe

April 21, 2014

SpaceX Wants to Send a Positively Massive Rocket to Mars

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Mars, Military, Space Exploration, Space Ships — bferrari @ 2:23 pm

The future of spaceflight will be powered by ion engines and warp drives, right? Not just yet. There is still some uncharted territory in the world of liquid-fueled rockets, which have been powering spacecraft since the 50s, and SpaceX is testing the waters with its new Raptor engine. It could be the engine that, if Elon Musk gets his wish, propels the first colonists to Mars.

Right now the Raptor looks like it will be developed to deliver 1 million pounds of thrust at launch, which is certainly a step up from SpaceX’s existing engines—SpaceX’s Merlin 1D delivers about 147,000 pounds at launch. The Raptor will even beat out the Space Shuttle’s main engine, which delivered 375,000 pounds of thrust at launch. In other words, the Raptor is expected to be a huge engine, dwarfed only by the F-1 engine powering the gigantic Saturn V rocket.

Can SpaceX build a rocket engine to rival the giants? The firm has had good luck developing rocket engines in the past. Its Merlin 1D engine, which uses the traditional mixture of kerosene and liquid oxygen, has the highest thrust-to-weight ratio of any engine currently in use. But it still uses the same basic technology of all liquid rocket engines that came before it.

RELATED: NASA Is Resurrecting the Most Powerful Rocket Engine Ever Built

Liquid-fueled rockets work by mixing a fuel and an oxidizer in a combustion chamber before the mixture is ignited and blasted out of a nozzle. For a powerful reaction to occur, large quantities of the liquid fuel and the oxidizer must be fed into a rocket’s combustion chamber quickly and under high pressure. This flow of liquids is driven by a turbopump, a system that is powered by a small amount of fuel “pre-burning.” A similar process happens to get the oxidizer into the combustion chamber.

SpaceX's Merlin 1D rocket engine being tested. (SpaceX)

SpaceX’s Merlin 1D rocket engine being tested. (SpaceX)

Liquid-fueled engines typically send a small amount of fuel and oxidizer through the preburners; the bulk of the liquids are sent directly into the combustion chamber. But what if this weren’t the case?

The US Air Force and NASA have both considered what’s called a “full-flow cycle” design, which sends all fuel through turbopumps. It has one important advantage: more fuel and oxidizer passing through the preburners will drive the turbo pumps harder, increasing the pressure inside the combustion chamber and in turn the rocket engine’s performance.

A full-flow design has never been used in the United States, but it’s the kind of design SpaceX is currently pursuing for its Raptor engine.

SpaceX first revealed its new engine design at the AIAA Joint Propulsion conference in July of 2010. They were introduced as the powerhouses for the company’s future Falcon X and Falcon XX rockets. The first new engine was the Merlin 2, an engine of similar design but more efficient than the Merlin 1-D. The second engine presented was the Raptor, a staged combustion engine using liquid oxygen and hydrogen to power heavy rockets.

SpaceX says its future Falcon Heavy rocket will be the most powerful rocket in existence. Its first stage will be powered by 27 Merlin rocket engines, which are about an eighth the size of the Raptor engine planned. (SpaceX)

SpaceX says its future Falcon Heavy rocket will be the most powerful rocket in existence. Its first stage will be powered by 27 Merlin rocket engines, which are about an eighth the size of the Raptor engine planned. (SpaceX)

Source

February 18, 2014

NASA solves mystery of ‘jelly donut’ on Mars

This before-and-after pair of images of the same patch of ground in front of NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity 13 days apart documents the arrival of a strange, bright rock at the scene. The rock, called

This before-and-after pair of images of the same patch of ground in front of NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity 13 days apart documents the arrival of a strange, bright rock at the scene. The rock, called “Pinnacle Island,” is seen in the right imag (NASA/JPL-CALTECH/CORNELL UNIV./ARIZONA STATE UNIV.)

It was a complete unknown — it was a rolling stone.

A mystery rock that appeared before NASA’s Opportunity rover in late January — and bore a strange resemblance to a jelly donut – is no more than a common piece of stone that bounced in front of the cameras, NASA said Friday.

The strange rock was first spied on Jan. 8, in a spot where nothing had sat a mere two weeks earlier. Dubbed “Pinnacle Island” by NASA scientists, it was only about 1.5 inches wide. But the rock’s odd appearance — white-rimmed and red-centered, not unlike a jelly donut — made many sit up and take notice.

Now researchers with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology have finally cleared up the mystery.

Yep. It’s a rock.

“Once we moved Opportunity a short distance, after inspecting Pinnacle Island, we could see directly uphill an overturned rock that has the same unusual appearance,” said Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis. “We drove over it. We can see the track. That’s where Pinnacle Island came from.”

‘We drove over it. We can see the track. That’s where Pinnacle Island came from.’

- Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson

Examination of Pinnacle Island revealed high levels of elements such as manganese and sulfur, suggesting these water-soluble ingredients were concentrated in the rock by the action of water.

“This may have happened just beneath the surface relatively recently,” Arvidson said, “or it may have happened deeper below ground longer ago and then, by serendipity, erosion stripped away material above it and made it accessible to our wheels.”

 

Now that the rover is finished inspecting this rock, the team plans to drive Opportunity south and uphill to investigate exposed rock layers on the slope.

Opportunity has trolled the Martian surface since Jan. 24, 2004, far outlasting its original 90-day mission.

Steve Squyres, the rover’s lead scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y said the Red Planet keeps surprising scientists, even 10 years later.

“Mars keeps throwing new things at us,” he said.

Source

December 10, 2013

Mars One unveils first stage of plan to colonize Red Planet

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Mars, Space Exploration, Space Ships — bferrari @ 2:49 pm
All components of Mars One's settlement are slated to reach their destination by 2021. The hardware includes two living units, two life-support units, a second supply unit and two rovers. (BRYAN VERSTEEG/MARS ONE)

All components of Mars One’s settlement are slated to reach their destination by 2021. The hardware includes two living units, two life-support units, a second supply unit and two rovers. (BRYAN VERSTEEG/MARS ONE)

An ambitious project that aims to send volunteers on a one-way trip to Mars unveiled plans for the first private unmanned mission to the Red Planet Tuesday, a robotic vanguard to human colonization that will launch in 2018.

The non-profit Mars One foundation has inked deals with Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) to draw up mission concept studies for the private robotic flight to Mars. Under the plan, Lockheed Martin will build the Mars One lander, and SSTL will build a communications satellite, the companies’ representatives announced at a news conference here today.

“We’re very excited to have contracted Lockheed Martin and SSTL for our first mission to Mars,” Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp said in a statement. “These will be the first private spacecraft to Mars and their successful arrival and operation will be a historic accomplishment.” [Photos: How Mars One Wants to Colonize the Red Planet]

Lockheed Martin designed, built and operated the lander for NASA’s 2007 Phoenix Mars lander mission to look for water ice beneath the surface of the Martian arctic, and the Mars One Lander will be based on the design of Phoenix.

“This is an ambitious project and we’re already working on the mission concept study, starting with the proven design of Phoenix,” Ed Sedivy, civil space chief engineer at Lockheed Martin, said in a statement.

The Mars One lander will have a robotic arm capable of scooping up soil, just like the Phoenix lander; an experiment to extract water from the soil; a power experiment to demonstrate the use of thin-film solar panels on the planet’s surface; and a camera for continuous video recording.

The lander will also carry aboard the winner of a worldwide university challenge that Mars One plans to launch in 2014, as well as several Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education challenge winners.

The satellite, to be built by SSTL, will be in synchronous orbit around Mars and will provide a high-bandwidth link to relay data and live video from the lander back to Earth.

“This study gives us an unprecedented opportunity to take our tried and tested approach and apply it to Mars One’s imaginative and exhilarating challenge of sending humans to Mars through private investment,” Sir Martin Sweeting, executive chairman of SSTL, said in a statement.

Mars One invited anyone over age 18 to apply to be an astronaut. About 165,000 people answered the first call for applications, which closed at the end of August. There will be four rounds of selection before the finalists are chosen.

Mars One estimates it will cost $6 billion to get the first four people to Mars, and $4 billion for each subsequent trip. The funding will come from sponsorships and exclusive partnerships, and the company recently announced a reality TV show to pay for the project. The foundation is also launching a crowd-funding campaign through the website Indiegogo. Contributors will earn the right to vote on several mission decisions, including the winners of STEM and university challenges, Mars One says.

“Our 2018 mission will change the way people view space exploration as they will have the opportunity to participate,” Lansdorp said. “They will not only be spectators, but also participants.”

Source

March 8, 2013

It’s a date! Millionaire Dennis Tito to send couple on manned Mars mission on Jan. 5, 2018

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Mars, Space Exploration, Space Ships, Wierd — bferrari @ 9:45 am
An artist's illustration of the Inspiration Mars Foundation's spacecraft for a 2018 mission to Mars by a two-person crew. The private Mars mission would be a flyby trip around the Red Planet. (Inspiration Mars Foundation)

An artist’s illustration of the Inspiration Mars Foundation’s spacecraft for a 2018 mission to Mars by a two-person crew. The private Mars mission would be a flyby trip around the Red Planet. (Inspiration Mars Foundation)

A maverick millionaire obsessed with space travel vowed to send a manned mission to Mars, even announcing the date the rocket carrying one man and one woman would set off for the Red Planet: Jan. 5, 2018.

On that date, a preferably married couple yet to be chosen will enter a tiny space capsule for the longest date in history — rocketing into the heavens and the record books, promised Dennis Tito, the brains behind The Inspiration Mars Foundation and the American businessman who paid about $20 million to visit the International Space Station in 2001 aboard a Russian spacecraft.

 

WHO WILL THE COUPLE BE?

“This is humanity’s first flight out to Mars, and humanity should be represented by both genders,” Dennis Tito said.

“We hope that we can find a married couple. When you’re out that far and the Earth is a tiny blue pinpoint, you’re going to need someone you can hug. What better solution to the psychological problems you’re going to encounter with that isolation?” Read more

 

After a trip of about 140 million miles, the brave couple will be the first humans ever to peer out a window at Mars — but not set foot there.

Their spacecraft will not stop on the surface of the planet, instead orbiting around the Red Planet at a distance of 100 miles out before using the planet’s gravity to slingshot back to the Earth, he said.

“This will be a Lewis and Clark mission to Mars,” explained Taber MacCallum, CEO for space development company Paragon and one of the scientists working on the Inspiration Mars program.

Why now? Why 2018?
I
f we don’t seize the moment, we may miss the opportunity to explore Mars, the group claims. That’s because the Jan. 2018 deadline is a hard one: According to a 1996 paper that inspired the private project, the planets only come together perfectly for a mission like this once every 15 years. And while the next window is just five short years away, the follow-up won’t be until 2031.

“The planets realign every 15 years, and who wants to wait for 2031?” Tito said. “By that time, we might have company.”

Tito himself won’t be flying on this mission; rather, it will be an unnamed, middle-aged crew consisting of a man and a woman.

“I will not be one of the crew members. And if I were 30 years younger, I still would not be,” Tito said. Instead mechanically trained (and likely much younger) astronauts will pilot the craft on its mission.

 

‘This will be a Lewis and Clark mission to Mars.’

- Taber MacCallum chief technology officer for space development company Paragon

 

The trip is relatively straightforward, according to the various presenters at the event, akin to a low-earth orbit trip in complexity. But due to the distances involved, there are obvious, glaring risks to the 501-day mission.

“It’s 1.4 years, no chance for abort. If something goes wrong, there’s no chance of coming back … and we’re going to re-enter at record speeds, 14.2 kilometers per second,” explained MacCallum. The trip is conceptually feasible, he said, but the technical details to make it happen have yet to be completed. There are a wealth of spacecraft being developed at present, giving them a wealth of options, however.

He called it a demonstration that could lead to further exploration of Mars.

“We’re trying to be a stepping stone toward that” he said. But “a program of record is really needed to make that happen.”

How will astronauts make it to Mars?
Technology aside, will people be able to survive such a mission however, trapped in a tiny capsule and breathing the same air day in and day out, month after month, all the way to Mars and back?

Absolutely, explained Jonathan Clark , chief medical officer for Inspiration Mars — and the medical officer for Felix Baumgartner’s recent dramatic plunge from space.

“This is going to be the Apollo 8 moment for the next generation,” he said. “It’s about inspiring our children, particularly my son. To me this really strikes a deep personal note.”

To keep the crew alive in deep space, where we have limited experience, he would rely on past experience working in micro gravity. Radiation may be an issue, he said. Clark said individual genomic analysis of the astronauts would allow them to tailor protection to the mission. And other advanced studies and research would be necessary to protect the astronauts, whom he said would be “middle-aged.”

“Do we have our work cut out for us? Yes, absolutely,” he said. Beyond merely sustaining the crew, the team will be challenged by the psychological stress of such a mission.

“It’s a really long road trip, you’re jammed into an RV that goes the equivalent of 32,000 times around the Earth…and they’ll have about 3,000 pounds of dehydrated food that they’ll get to rehydrate with the same water they drank two days ago,” explained Jane Poynter, also of Paragon and also a member of the project.

A system that provides all of the basic needs of the crew already exists, she said, based on the system in place on the International Space Station, though it is simpler and more robust.

It’s important that we have a man and woman on the mission, she said, because they reflect humanity. And having both genders reflect should serve further to inspire the next generation to look to the stars — and open their science text books.

“Getting a tweet from a female astronaut, from Mars, and looking down at what she’s seeing and describe it for us? And then turning around and looking back at Earth and describing that tiny dot that she’s seeing? These two astronauts will take all of us along on the ride,” Poynter said.

The cost of the mission is still not determined, Tito explained, although reports say it could cost as much as $1 billion. But it will clearly be a money-loser for the former NASA scientist, who founded the investment firm Wilshire Associates that eventually made him a millionaire.

“This is not a commercial mission,” he said. “Let me guarantee, I will come out a lot poorer as a result of this mission. But my grandchildren will come out a lot wealthier because of the inspiration they will get from this mission.” But the mission will be cheap, he stressed.

“This is really chump change compared to what we’ve heard before.”

The team already has a signed space act agreement with NASA, and says they will launch the craft from Moffitt Field at NASA’s Ames facility in California. The space agency on Wednesday applauded the goals of Inspiration Mars.

“This type of private sector effort is further evidence of the timeliness and wisdom of the Obama Administration’s overall space policy,” said NASA spokesman David Steitz, in a statement posted on SpaceRef.com.

“It’s a testament to the audacity of America’s commercial aerospace industry and the adventurous spirit of America’s citizen-explorers.”

Source

January 24, 2013

Still going: Long-lived NASA rover Opportunity commencing tenth year of exploration on Mars

MARS –  Opportunity, NASA’s other Mars rover, has tooled around the red planet for so long it’s easy to forget it’s still alive.

The late-afternoon shadow cast by the Mars rover Opportunity at Endeavour Crater. The six-wheel rover landed on Mars in January 2004 and is still going strong. (AP Photo/NASA)

The late-afternoon shadow cast by the Mars rover Opportunity at Endeavour Crater. The six-wheel rover landed on Mars in January 2004 and is still going strong. (AP Photo/NASA)

Some 5,000 miles away from the limelight surrounding Curiosity’s every move, Opportunity this week quietly embarks on its tenth year of exploration — a sweet milestone since it was only tasked to work for three months.

“Opportunity is still going. Go figure,” said mission deputy principal investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis.

True, it’s not as snazzy as Curiosity, the most high-tech interplanetary rover ever designed. It awed the world with its landing near the Martian equator five months ago.

After so many years crater-hopping, Opportunity is showing its age: It has an arthritic joint in its robotic arm and it drives mostly backward due to a balky front wheel — more annoyances than show-stoppers.

For the past several months, it has been parked on a clay-rich hill along the western rim of Endeavour Crater that’s unlike any scenery it encountered before. It plans to wrap up at its current spot in the next several months and then drive south where the terrain looks even riper for discoveries.

Long before Curiosity became everybody’s favorite rover, Opportunity was the darling.

The six-wheel, solar-powered rover parachuted to Eagle Crater in Mars’ southern hemisphere on Jan. 24, 2004, weeks after its twin Spirit landed on the opposite side of the planet.

‘Opportunity is still going. Go figure.’

- Mission deputy principal investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University

During the first three months, there were frequent updates about the twin rovers’ antics. The world, it seemed, followed every trail, every rock touched and even kept up with Spirit’s health scare that it eventually recovered from.

Opportunity immediately lived up to its name, touching down in an ancient lakebed brimming with minerals that formed in the presence of water, a key ingredient for life. After grinding into rocks and sifting through dirt, Opportunity made one of the enduring finds on Mars: Signs abound of an ancient environment that was warmer and wetter than today’s dusty, cold desert state.

Spirit, on the other hand, landed in a less interesting spot and had to drive some distance to find geologic evidence of past water. After six productive years wheeling around, it fell silent in 2010, forever stuck in Martian sand.

Opportunity went on to poke into four other craters, uncovering even more hints that water existed on Mars long ago.

The rover “is not like a lander staring at the same real estate. We’ve gone to different terrains, explored different geology and answered different questions on Mars,” said project manager John Callas of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which runs the $984 million project.

What’s still unknown is whether Mars ever had the right environmental conditions to support microscopic organisms — something Curiosity is trying to answer during its two-year mission. Besides water, it’s generally agreed that a power source like the sun and carbon-based compounds are essential for life.

Unlike the flashier Curiosity, armed with the latest tools, Opportunity is not equipped with a carbon detector. Its latest crater destination, which it arrived at last year after an epic three-year journey, contains sections rich in clay deposits. Clays typically form in the presence of water and can be a fine preserver of carbon material. But scientists will never know.

As it enters its tenth year on Mars, Opportunity will continue studying the chemical makeup and pinning down the ages of several interesting rocks at its location for several more months before adding more mileage to the 22 miles it has logged since landing.

As for the hunt for carbon, all eyes are on Curiosity, set to drive later this year to the base of a mountain where rock layers containing clay minerals have been detected.

Callas, the JPL project manager, said Curiosity has a long way to go to catch up with Opportunity, which has nearly a decade head start on the Martian surface.

“Mars is big enough for more than two rovers to explore,” he said.

Source

November 22, 2012

Mars Mystery: Has Curiosity Rover Made Big Discovery?

Filed under: Cool, Extraterrestrial Life, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Life, Mars, Space Ships — bferrari @ 9:30 am

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has apparently made a discovery “for the history books,” but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to learn what the new Red Planet find may be, media reports suggest.

Curiosity's self portrait from Mars

Curiosity’s self portrait from Mars

The discovery was made by Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, NPR reported today (Nov. 20). SAM is the rover’s onboard chemistry lab, and it’s capable of identifying organic compounds — the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it.

SAM apparently spotted something interesting in a soil sample Curiosity’s huge robotic arm delivered to the instrument recently.

“This data is gonna be one for the history books,” Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger, of Caltech in Pasadena, told NPR. “It’s looking really good.”

Watch Video:  

http://www.space.com/18436-curiosity-inhales-mars-gets-carbon-dioxide-buzz-video.html

The rover team won’t be ready to announce just what SAM found for several weeks, NPR reported, as scientists want to check and double-check the results. Indeed, Grotzinger confirmed to SPACE.com that the news will come out at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which takes place Dec. 3-7 in San Francisco.

The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover landed inside Mars’ huge Gale Crater on Aug. 5, kicking off a two-year mission to determine if Mars has ever been capable of supporting microbial life.

The car-size robot carries 10 different instruments to aid in its quest, but SAM is the rover’s heart, taking up more than half of its science payload by weight.

In addition to analyzing soil samples, SAM also takes the measure of Red Planet air. Many scientists are keen to see if Curiosity detects any methane, which is produced by many lifeforms here on Earth. A SAM analysis of Curiosity’s first few sniffs found no definitive trace of the gas in the Martian atmosphere, but the rover will keep looking.

Curiosity began driving again Friday (Nov. 16) after spending six weeks testing its soil-scooping gear at a site called “Rocknest.” The rover will soon try out its rock-boring drill for the first time on the Red Planet, scientists have said.

Source

NASA SECRET DISCOVERY ON MARS: Meteor offers possible clue

Filed under: Cool, Extraterrestrial Life, Inner Solar System, Life, Mars, Space Exploration — bferrari @ 9:21 am

Space rock was flung to Earth after asteroid strike

All the boffinry world is alive with speculation as to just what the as yet unnannounced “one for the history books” discovered by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity might be. But a recently-published study may offer a clue.

In the investigation, researchers from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Carnegie Institution and the Lunar and Planetary Institute compared water concentrations and hydrogen isotopes in crystals within shergottites – two meteorites that came to Earth from Mars as a result of an asteroid strike on the red world. Both were primitive, but one was relatively rich in elements including hydrogen although the other wasn’t.

Did Mars once look like Earth?

Did Mars once look like Earth?

“There are competing theories that account for the diverse compositions of Martian meteorites,” Tomohiro Usui, lead author of the paper and a former NASA/LPI postdoctoral fellow, said. “Until this study there was no direct evidence that primitive Martian lavas contained material from the surface of Mars.”

“Usui revealed that the initial hydrogen isotopic composition of Mars was Earth-like, because he designed an experiment that greatly reduced contamination to the meteorite here on Earth,” said coauthor Justin Simon, a JSC cosmochemist.

One meteorite changed little on its way to the Martian surface from the mantle. The concentration of water in the rock was low, suggesting the inside of Mars is parched. The other meteorite had contact with the atmosphere and had ten times more water, suggesting that the surface could have been very wet at one time.

The full study is online at scientific database ScienceDirect.

NASA’s keeping schtum until at least next month on just what the Curiosity rover’s sample analysis unit has discovered to set its boffins in such a tizzy: but solid evidence of a watery surface on Mars in the past – though not as blockbusting as proof of life – would nonetheless be considered significant enough by the space agency that it would only make revelations after careful checks.

It could just be that Usui’s meteorite study will be borne out by Curiosity’s analysis. We’ll have to wait and see.

Source

 

 

November 4, 2012

Curiosity snaps “arm’s length” self-portrait on Mars

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Mars, Space Exploration, Space Ships — bferrari @ 3:47 pm
Oct. 31, 2012: NASA's Curiosity rover captured a set of 55 high-resolution images (left), which were stitched together to create this full-color self-portrait from Mars (right). (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Oct. 31, 2012: NASA’s Curiosity rover captured a set of 55 high-resolution images (left), which were stitched together to create this full-color self-portrait from Mars (right). (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

There you are, the first human to step onto the surface of Mars.

Your astronaut colleagues are still on board the lander, cheering on your historic first interplanetary steps. Of course there are cameras on the lander, and your buddies are filming the whole event from inside their pressurized capsule, but you can’t resist.

To record this moment for posterity, you grab your own camera from your suit pocket, hold it at arm’s length and snap a shot of your head and upper torso in the alien, red landscape.

PHOTOS: Curiosity Flips Powerful Camera’s Dust Cap

Personally, I’m a huge fan of candid arm’s length photography, especially when I’m exploring a new place alone. But for the one-ton Mars rover Curiosity, self portraits are becoming an essential staple of its time on the Martian surface. What’s more, the rover is kitted out with a huge array of wonderfully advanced cameras, one of which – the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) – is mounted perfectly at the end of its 2-meter long robotic arm.

In this intimate scene we can see Curiosity, as if in mid-playtime, in its Mars sandbox — a geologically interesting area called “Rocknest.” In the lower left are the scoop trenches where samples of Mars soil have been excavated and in the upper right, the base of Mt. Sharp (the unofficial name of Aeolis Mons, a 3-mile high mountain in the center of Gale Crater). Wheel tread-marks surround the rover.

ANALYSIS: Curiosity Finds Some Aloha Spirit in Mars Soil

This image is composed of a mosaic of 55 high-resolution photos. Apart from providing a great portrait of our beloved robotic emissary on Mars, these photos provide the MSL team with an invaluable means of keeping track of dust buildup and wheel tread wear. Although Curiosity is still relatively shiny and new, as the years march on, we’ll likely see marked changes in its appearance. If its still-functioning rover cousin Opportunity is anything to go by, Curiosity will be coated in a rusty orange coat in no time at all.

Go to the NASA JPL mission site to download the incredibly detailed high-resolution version

 

October 20, 2012

Yum! Curiosity rover eats Mars dirt, finds odd bright stuff

Three bite marks left in the Martian ground by the scoop on the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity are visible in this image taken by the rover's right Navigation Camera during the mission's 69th Martian day, or sol (Oct. 15, 2012). The (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Three bite marks left in the Martian ground by the scoop on the robotic arm of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity are visible in this image taken by the rover’s right Navigation Camera during the mission’s 69th Martian day, or sol (Oct. 15, 2012). The (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has swallowed its first tiny bite of Martian soil, after standing down for a spell while scientists checked out some strange bright bits in the dirt.

The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover ingested the minuscule sample — which contains about as much material as a baby aspirin — on Wednesday (Oct. 17). The soil has been successfully delivered to the rover’s Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, or CheMin, mission scientists announced today (Oct. 18).

“We are crossing a significant threshold for this mission by using CheMin on its first sample,” Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a statement.

“This instrument gives us a more definitive mineral-identifying method than ever before used on Mars: X-ray diffraction,” Grotzinger added. “Confidently identifying minerals is important because minerals record the environmental conditions under which they form.” [Video: Curiosity's First Scoopful of Mars Dirt]

Bright stuff on Mars

The sample that found its way into CheMin came from the third scoop of soil Curiosity dug up at a site dubbed “Rocknest.” The first scoop was discarded after being used to scrub out the rover’s sampling system, to help ensure that no Earth-originating residues remained.

Work at Rocknest slowed after Curiosity dug its second scoop on Oct. 12, when researchers noticed oddly bright flecks at the bottom of the hole. The team dumped the scoop out, worried that it might contain debris that had flaked off Curiosity.

They already knew that some tiny rover pieces are littering the Martian ground, after spotting a bright shred of what appears to be plastic on Oct. 7. Team members have since identified five or six other such bits, which may have fallen off Curiosity’s sky-crane descent stage during landing on Aug. 5.

“We went super-paranoid,” Grotzinger told reporters today. The team determined that “if this stuff is man-made, we better make sure that we’re not taking any of it in.”

So Curiosity moved to a slightly different location, and then took lots of pictures to make sure that the surface was pristine before making scoop number three. If any bright flecks are indeed present in the sample, they’re naturally occurring, the mission team reasons, since any rover pieces would be restricted to the surface.

All that being said, Curiosity scientists now believe the bright soil flecks are indeed indigenous to Mars. They could be minerals that are part of the soil-forming process, Grotzinger said, or reflective surfaces created by the cleaving of ordinary dirt.

The team aims to fire its mineral-identifying laser, which is part of Curiosity’s ChemCam instrument, at some of the pieces in the next few days to get a better idea of what they actually are.

Mars under the microscope

Curiosity carries 10 instruments to help it determine whether its Gale Crater landing site has ever been capable of supporting microbial life. But CheMin and another instrument on the 1-ton rover’s body, known as Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM), are the rover’s core scientific gear.

SAM is a chemistry laboratory that can identify organic compounds — the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it. The instrument has been sniffing the Martian air already, but it has yet to analyze its first soil sample. That should change in a week or so, Grotzinger said, after further cleaning of the rover’s sampling system.

Curiosity continues to be in good health, researchers said. After the six-wheeled robot finishes testing out its scooping and sampling systems at Rocknest, mission scientists will begin searching for a spot to break out the rover’s rock-boring drill. The first drill activity will be a complicated affair that could take month or so all up, Grotzinger said.

Curiosity is currently checking out deposits near a site called “Glenelg,” where three interesting types of Martian terrain come together. But its ultimate destination is the base of Mount Sharp, the 3.4-mile-high (5.5 kilometers) mountain rising from Gale Crater’s center.

Mount Sharp’s foothills show signs of long-ago exposure to liquid water. Curiosity could be ready to start rolling toward the mountain’s interesting deposits — which lie about 6 miles (10 km) away — in a couple of months.

“I would hope we’d be on our way by the end of the year,” Grotzinger said.
Source

 

September 27, 2012

GO ROVER !! NASA Rover Finds Old Streambed on Martian Surface

NASA's Curiosity rover found evidence for an ancient, flowing stream on Mars at a few sites, including the rock outcrop pictured here, which the science team has named "Hottah" after Hottah Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

NASA’s Curiosity rover found evidence for an ancient, flowing stream on Mars at a few sites, including the rock outcrop pictured here, which the science team has named “Hottah” after Hottah Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Curiosity rover mission has found evidence a stream once ran vigorously across the area on Mars where the rover is driving. There is earlier evidence for the presence of water on Mars, but this evidence — images of rocks containing ancient streambed gravels — is the first of its kind.

Scientists are studying the images of stones cemented into a layer of conglomerate rock. The sizes and shapes of stones offer clues to the speed and distance of a long-ago stream’s flow.

“From the size of gravels it carried, we can interpret the water was moving about 3 feet per second, with a depth somewhere between ankle and hip deep,” said Curiosity science co-investigator William Dietrich of the University of California, Berkeley. “Plenty of papers have been written about channels on Mars with many different hypotheses about the flows in them. This is the first time we’re actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars. This is a transition from speculation about the size of streambed material to direct observation of it.”

The finding site lies between the north rim of Gale Crater and the base of Mount Sharp, a mountain inside the crater. Earlier imaging of the region from Mars orbit allows for additional interpretation of the gravel-bearing conglomerate. The imagery shows an alluvial fan of material washed down from the rim, streaked by many apparent channels, sitting uphill of the new finds.

The rounded shape of some stones in the conglomerate indicates long-distance transport from above the rim, where a channel named Peace Vallis feeds into the alluvial fan. The abundance of channels in the fan between the rim and conglomerate suggests flows continued or repeated over a long time, not just once or for a few years.

The discovery comes from examining two outcrops, called “Hottah” and “Link,” with the telephoto capability of Curiosity’s mast camera during the first 40 days after landing. Those observations followed up on earlier hints from another outcrop, which was exposed by thruster exhaust as Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory Project’s rover, touched down.

“Hottah looks like someone jack-hammered up a slab of city sidewalk, but it’s really a tilted block of an ancient streambed,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

The gravels in conglomerates at both outcrops range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Some are angular, but many are rounded.

“The shapes tell you they were transported and the sizes tell you they couldn’t be transported by wind. They were transported by water flow,” said Curiosity science co-investigator Rebecca Williams of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz.

The science team may use Curiosity to learn the elemental composition of the material, which holds the conglomerate together, revealing more characteristics of the wet environment that formed these deposits. The stones in the conglomerate provide a sampling from above the crater rim, so the team may also examine several of them to learn about broader regional geology.

The slope of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater remains the rover’s main destination. Clay and sulfate minerals detected there from orbit can be good preservers of carbon-based organic chemicals that are potential ingredients for life.

“A long-flowing stream can be a habitable environment,” said Grotzinger. “It is not our top choice as an environment for preservation of organics, though. We’re still going to Mount Sharp, but this is insurance that we have already found our first potentially habitable environment.”

During the two-year prime mission of the Mars Science Laboratory, researchers will use Curiosity’s 10 instruments to investigate whether areas in Gale Crater have ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech, built Curiosity and manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more about Curiosity, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl .

You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .

Guy Webster / D.C. Agle 818-354-5011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,Calif.
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov / agle@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

 

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