Tag Archives: MER-B

The air is clearing over Perseverance Valley – but what of Opportunity?

MER-B “Opportunity”, the little rover that could, obliterating all expectations for its longevity and roving for nearly 15 years on the surface of Mars….

The rover went silent back in June as one of Mars’ notorious planetwide dust storms kicked up.  Not all of the planet was equally affected, but the spot where Opportunity is trucking around, nicknamed Perseverance Valley for how damn tough this bot has proven to be, was severely affected.  It would be nearly as dark as night even in the middle of the day during the worst of the storm.  Even a nuclear-powered rover like Curiosity would struggle to be useful in those conditions (it was, ironically, much less dusty in Gale Crater), but for a solar-powered rover, such darkness is disastrous.  Opportunity likely completely depleted its batteries.  The good news is that it’s summer in Perseverance Valley, and the dust storm acted like a thermal blanket; the rover should have stayed warm enough that its batteries will not have frozen, as likely killed the Spirit rover when it got stuck in a position where it could not receive adequate sunlight over the long winter.  The bad news is . . . the rover’s been showing serious signs of age already, and it could be partially buried under dust now.  It’s hard to say what condition it’s in.

Still, the storm has been abating.  Soon, the tau (a measure of particulates in the atmosphere) is expected to drop below 1.5, at which point there should be enough light to charge the batteries up.  It is designed to recover from a complete power loss, and once it has sufficient power in its batteries, it should be able to phone home.  And to improve the odds some more, NASA is also sending regular “are you there?” signals to it, while listening for any signals via both the Deep Space Network and the orbiting assets such as Mars Odyssey 2001, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, and ESA’s Mars Express, all of which are designed to act as relays for any compatible lander on the surface of Mars.

But NASA cannot afford to listen forever.  Once the tau drops below 1.5, a clock will start to tick.  They will continue actively pinging the rover for 45 days.  After that, a passive listening campaign will continue for another 90 days, in hopes that the upcoming dust devil season may clean off any accumulated dust on the solar panels.  But if Opportunity does not respond by the end of that campaign, they may have to finally close the door on this astonishingly successful mission.

So cross your fingers that Oppy calls home!  😉



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Opportunity — can you hear us?

The Mars Exploration Rover B “Opportunity” has been such an amazing success story.  From a remarkable “hole-in-one” landing in January of 2004….

…to record-shattering traverses of Meridiani Planum for over 14 years, currently taking it to a location aptly named Perseverance Valley, Opportunity has far outlived all of the expectations for it.  It has outlived its sister vehicle, Spirit, which became mired and unable to orient its solar panels for optimal illumination in the long Martian winter, and seen remarkably fortuitous weather events — dust devils that cleared the pernicious accumulation of dust from its solar panels.

But now, the rover’s been going on so long it almost seems unstoppable.  XKCD’s Randall Munroe took this its logical extreme:

We all remember those famous first words spoken by an astronaut on the surface of Mars: It really has seemed as if Opportunity is unstoppable.

The Martian Terminator of rovers, if you will.

But it’s possible it’s now met its match in the form of what is shaping up to be the biggest dust storm on Mars in a long time, possibly since the staggering dust storm that enveloped Mars just before Mariner 9 arrived in 1971, lasting months before the probe was able to begin usefully photographing the red planet.  If this storm also lasts months, it will surely kill Opportunity; it’s summer in Meridiani Planum, which helps a lot, but this storm is likely blotting out the sun almost completely.  A few days ago, NASA lost the signal from Opportunity.  Over the previous few days, the probe’s telemetry had reported plummeting power output from the solar panels, so at present, it is certainly subsisting on battery power, running only its mission clock so it can periodically wake up and check to see if there is light again.  If the storm lifts soon, we may hear from Opportunity again.  But if not . . . .

Well.  Cross your fingers.  😉  This plucky little robot has surprised us before.

PS If you’re wondering about Curiosity, well, that probe is on the other side of the planet, in Gale Crater.  But the storm is so massive that Curiosity is beginning to see the effects as well.  Unlike Opportunity, though, Curiosity runs off of a Pu-238 radioisotope thermoelectric generator; it can run just as well in the dark as in daylight.  (Well, except for the fact that it doesn’t have headlights so can’t see where it’s going.)  Curiosity may eventually find its science operations impeded by the weather, but at least it won’t have to worry about power for a good long while.

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5,000 Martian Sunrises

Mars Exploration Rover B “Opportunity” has blown away all predictions for longevity.  I mean, NASA/JPL/APL always design their spacecraft to last as long as possible within budget constraints, but even by their own high standards, this thing has lasted a long, long time.  And just a few days ago, it saw something nobody thought it ever would — it’s 5,000th Martian sunrise.

And it finally took its first selfie.  😉  Well, not exactly the first, since it has taken pictures from its mast before.  But this was the first selfie taken using Opportunity’s robot art, similarly to how Curiosity regularly takes selfies.  Opportunity’s arm doesn’t have as good of a camera; it’s really meant for up-close microscopic images.  But it was a nice way of commemorating Sol 5,000:

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Opportunity keeps on trucking

The rover that doesn’t know how to quit, Mars Exploration Rover B “Opportunity” has just departed “Cape Tribulation”, a feature on the rim of Endeavour Crater on Mars.  It’s spent the last 30 months at this location, conserving power over the Martian winter (since unlike Curiosity, it’s solar powered), and now it’s ready to move on.  The next destination is a nearby valley in the huge crater’s rim, called “Perseverance Valley”.  It’s a good name for a valley soon to be explored by a spacecraft 13 years into its 3-month mission.  😉  Opportunity will begin by studying the top of the valley, then move down it in the sort of pattern you’d expect a geologist to take while studying erosion and deposits that may explain how the valley was formed.

Here’s a final full-color panoramic look at Cape Tribulation:

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New Shepherd flies a third time, and Opportunity spots a dust devil

First off, Blue Origins launched their fully reusable New Shepherd vehicle a third time.  The suborbital spaceflight was a complete success, moving them closer to a point where they can begin selling flights.

And then I have a cool Opportunity to pic to share, right after yesterday’s cool pic.  The rover spotted a bit of Martian weather: a dust devil!  This picture also does a great job of highlighting the challenging terrain the rover has been contending with.  It’s fortunately nice and smooth, but anything but level.


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MER-B Opportunity: Still Trucking Along

Thirteen years into its 90 day mission, Opportunity is still the rover that wouldn’t die.  (Not that it’s been easy; mission controllers have worked very hard to nurse it along.)  So what’s it up to now?  Well, it’s trying to climb the steepest incline it’s ever attempted, in hopes of getting close enough to put its sensor arm onto a bit of rock on the top of a ridge nicknamed Knudsen Ridge in Marathon Valley in Endeavour Crater.  The rock looked very intriguingly like it might give more clues to Mars’ hydrological history, which is of course the primary mission of the Opportunity rover.  Knowing that the terrain would badly challenge the robot, mission controllers commanded enough wheel turns to advance it 20 meters if they were on level terrain; due to the steep incline (32 degrees!), the wheels slipped instead and they only traveled about nine centimeters.  So instead, they’ve gone back down the slope and moved along to another interesting outcrop.

It really is the rover that won’t give up. 😉

The rover did return this rather interesting view during one of its self-inspection photo sessions — it appears all the juddering and jolting that would’ve happened during that unsuccessful climb dislodged the fine dust that covers the rover.  Maybe this could become a new way of shaking off the dust?


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And Oppy’s done it: the first robotic offworld marathon is complete!

After the successful upload of new software to allow Opportunity to resume use of its onboard flash memory (NVRAM), the rover was able to start rolling again and has now passed the marathon milestone of 26.219 miles, by about ten and a half feet.  Congratulations, Opportunity!



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