Tag Archives: MER-B

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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The Martian Marathon

Opportunity, still trucking over a decade into its 90 day mission, hobbled by NVRAM that isn’t holding some of its data overnight and a bum wheel that it’s forced to drag while driving backwards, is about to reach a new milestone.  It will shortly become the first rover to complete a marathon (26.219 miles or 42.195 kilometers).  In honor of this achievement, Oppy’s current target has been dubbed Marathon Valley.  It will hit the marathon mark in about 220 yards.  The going is slow, hampered as Opportunity is with its technical problems, but there’s really no reason not to expect it to complete the challenge.PIA19141_ip

The current marathon record for a human stands at a staggering 2 hours, 02 minutes, and 57 seconds, held by Kenyan runner Dennis Kimetto.  Most runners take considerably longer to complete a marathon, and merely finishing is considered a major accomplishment.  To date, there is no record for the marathon as completed by an extra-planetary unmanned rover, because so far none has completed a marathon.  But once Oppy gets there, it will set the record.  It’s not clear when Oppy will set this record; currently, mission controllers are debating on the safest route forward as there is a rather steep outcrop in front of the rover.  They may opt to go around it.  But if it set the record today, the time to beat would be 3930 Martian sols, or 3,825 Earth days (10 years, 173 days).

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