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NASA Mars Rover Spots Its Ultimate Destination

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the know-the-place-for-the-first-time dept.

Mars 101

coondoggie writes "It has been years in the making but NASA said its Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has captured a new view of the rim of the planet's Endeavour crater, perhaps the rover's ultimate destination. The Mars rover set out for Endeavour in September 2008 after spending two years exploring the Victoria crater. NASA says Endeavour is 13 miles across, some 25 times wider than Victoria crater, and could offer scientists more insight into the red planet's makeup."

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incredible (4, Interesting)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080552)

It still amazes me how long these rovers have lasted. hopefully it makes it to the crater, and lasts for a long time once it gets there.

They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fiasco (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32080826)

The requirements were for 90 days at a time when we wanted to send up many such vehicles and robots knowing they were cheap and we would lose some.

These little guys have lasted far too long, demonstrating the folks at JPL were not able to meet the requirements the taxpayers gave them.

Far better engineering would have had these things come in at 40% of the cost and had them die on day 97. Then we could have flown more and more of them.

I hope the guys who managed this fiasco were suitably fired before they had a chance to screw the taxpayer and the space program over again.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080876)

who pissed in your cherios today?

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32080918)

You dont get it. Engineers design products to fail so people buy more.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32081644)

Sometimes, the problem can be that Engineers over-engineer a product, but then later are forced to modify the design to reduce material and manufacturing costs. Had they been designed with cost in mind from the beginning, they might have been able to put R&D into the parts that need it the most.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | more than 4 years ago | (#32083530)

you obviously come from a time *after* TV repairmen. once, it was considered a virtue to design things that lasted for ages. Its our modern wasteful profit mongering way to design things to fail.

Personally, I commend them for designing the thing as well as they did, because really, the cost of getting a new rover up there every year far outweighs the cost of continued support for this one.
Add in the increased chances of losing a rover during launch or re-entry on mars, and it makes even more sense to get all the bang for your buck you can out of one rover.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (5, Insightful)

KibibyteBrain (1455987) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080914)

Except the majority of the cost is fixed in the rockets to escape Earth and the spacecraft to reach mars, so a longer lasting robot is always better so long as it remains a minority of the cost of the exploration system.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#32087090)

Whoooosh!

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#32092628)

Except the majority of the cost is fixed in the rockets to escape Earth and the spacecraft to reach mars, so a longer lasting robot is always better so long as it remains a minority of the cost of the exploration system.

This is incorrect. My understanding is that the two Mars Exploration Rovers cost roughly $850 million for the development, launch, and first 90 days of the mission. Of that, roughly $200 million was development cost, somewhere around $450 million was the cost of building (and other work like testing) the rovers, $75 million for operations, and $100 million for two rather cheap Delta II launches. So the launches took up roughly 12% of the total cost. This is typical fraction of cost IMHO for most satellites, space probes, and similar vehicles. It is rare to see launch costs outside 10-20% of the total cost of the mission.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (5, Funny)

jnnnnn (1079877) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081270)

Wow, I bet you're the guy who makes laptops fail two days after the three-year warranty ends.

I am all in favour of careful engineering. Designing things to fail is extremely antisocial.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32081920)

The GP is not making an argument for careful engineering, he's making an argument for risky cutting edge engineering.

He's not saying YOUR laptop should fail after the three day warranty, because that's not the requirements or what a consumer wants from a laptop.

He's saying a 90 day lifetime rover should die on day 100 having a 10 day safety margin and not a six year safety margin.

At the time, the spirit (so to speak) was for faster, better, cheaper. But we didn't get faster or cheaper from rover, we got better, just as usual.

The reward for dying on day 100 after a successful mission would have been to launch more rover and more rovers.

The punishment for lasting six years is that we've sent no more rovers up there. And the next rover is not the size of a toaster or trashcan, it's the size of an SUV and will be canceled.

Instead of grabbing the public's attention with a series of rovers, we've bored the public to death with the same version of Johnny 5 rolling around not doing much of anything as far as the public can tell for six years.

Grandparent is right, these things were way overbuilt.

What. The. Fuck. (4, Insightful)

tacokill (531275) | more than 4 years ago | (#32084062)

In all of my life, I am not sure I have ever read a more cynical post than you just wrote.

You sir, are the very definition of a crab in a barrel. Do you know what happens to crabs in a barrel when one of them tries to escape? The others pull him back down into the barrel.

Instead of celebrating the overwhelming success of the program, you denigrate it by saying it was too successful. Making something fail because of some artificial time horizon is just....well...stupid. My god man, don't you have ANY pride in success?

...or are all successes just failures waiting to happen???

Re:What. The. Fuck. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32089728)

Well, there are only two types of people in the world: those who have gotten sick from hot dogs, and those who have not yet gotten sick from hot dogs. Guess which one still buys hot dogs?

Re:What. The. Fuck. (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#32096224)

Seems like you just bit the troll. Who himself was weirdly moderated +4, Insightful. While good comments got moderated -1, Troll.

I don’t think that there is any doubt left, that the moderation system has been taken over by trolls / 4channers.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (2, Insightful)

r_jensen11 (598210) | more than 4 years ago | (#32084194)

The GP is not making an argument for careful engineering, he's making an argument for risky cutting edge engineering.

He's not saying YOUR laptop should fail after the three day warranty, because that's not the requirements or what a consumer wants from a laptop.

He's saying a 90 day lifetime rover should die on day 100 having a 10 day safety margin and not a six year safety margin.

At the time, the spirit (so to speak) was for faster, better, cheaper. But we didn't get faster or cheaper from rover, we got better, just as usual.

The reward for dying on day 100 after a successful mission would have been to launch more rover and more rovers.

The punishment for lasting six years is that we've sent no more rovers up there. And the next rover is not the size of a toaster or trashcan, it's the size of an SUV and will be canceled.

Instead of grabbing the public's attention with a series of rovers, we've bored the public to death with the same version of Johnny 5 rolling around not doing much of anything as far as the public can tell for six years.

Grandparent is right, these things were way overbuilt.

Except that the two scenarios aren't mutually exclusive- we should have continued to send more robots over there while having the robots last longer than we ever expected.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (2, Funny)

jbezorg (1263978) | more than 4 years ago | (#32086262)

Grandparent is right, these things were way overbuilt.

Grandparent needs to read more and I think you do too.

Launch Successes (s) and Failures (f), 1957–1999 [aero.org]

With about a 6%-7% chance of failure of not even making it to the planet, you want to make as few launches as possible and get the most out of each.

Then you have everything that could go wrong during landing. e.g. Beagle 2 and the crater it left in the martian soil.

Yep, thank God NASA is run by actual rocket scientists rather than internet experts.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32083518)

By designing things to fail you will put the consumer in contact with the seller / manufacturer. That seems to be the opposite of antisocial.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (5, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081474)

Far better engineering would have had these things come in at 40% of the cost and had them die on day 97. Then we could have flown more and more of them.

Ah, what a fanciful imagination you have of how engineering works.

Where engineers can guarantee operation in a highly variable, largely unknown environment for X days, yet also nail tolerances so tightly they can predict parts will fail in 1.1X days. And save lots of money in the process, somehow. Even though relative to your own imaginary number the rovers we actually got cost 2.5x, yet lasted more than 25x.

The rovers were engineered as robustly as possible within the weight budget, simply to ensure that they would work at all on the surface of Mars, and therefore had the potential to last for a very long time. This is obviously a win if you think the goal was to have the maximum number of operational rovers on Mars at any given time. But the reason they haven't launched more has nothing to do with rover cost. It's because they don't have the budget to expand operations to cover more; NASA is already busy with this already vastly expanded mission.

The only reason a 90 day mission plan came up was because that was their very rough estimate of how long the solar panels could supply sufficient power before they became too covered in dust. They had always hoped they could continue the mission past that and had contingency plans for the operations budget to that effect, and were very pleasantly surprised that their assumptions were wrong. When the Martian wind turned out to be much stronger than expected, enough to blow dust off of the rovers' solar panels, that constraint on the rovers' life span was removed and their robust engineering could pay off.

Executive summary: The only serious mistake made in the planning, research and design of the rover mission was in predicting a short lifespan for the rovers, and that mistake turned out to be in the mission's and the taxpayer's favor.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32081942)

The strategy at the time was faster, better, cheaper, and it was intended that some missions would fail but we would have more missions.

The reward for lasting seven years was no more rover missions to mars.

The punishment for dying after 100 days would have been a loud cheer for a successful mission, and more rover missions by year's end.

NASA abandoned faster, better, cheaper, because they realized they had no idea of how to do faster and cheaper, all they could do was better and better and because they lived, and we live, in a US with no leadership where failure of an unmanned mission is still unacceptable, even when it is planned.

Overengineering is still an engineering failure.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (1)

jbezorg (1263978) | more than 4 years ago | (#32085598)

faster, better, cheaper

But I thought I could only pick two!

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (2, Interesting)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#32082138)

Ah, what a fanciful imagination you have of how engineering works.

While I don't agree with his supposition, He's not that far off the mark. In manufacturing, if the expected life is 1 year (with a warranty period of 90 days), and if a $10 part will last, literally forever while a $2 part will last for 1 year of continuous use... You choose the $2 part.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32082716)

In manufacturing, if the expected life is 1 year (with a warranty period of 90 days), and if a $10 part will last, literally forever while a $2 part will last for 1 year of continuous use... You choose the $2 part.

Yes. But if the specs for your device includes high-g acceleration on launch, storage in vacuum at very low temperatures during transport, rapid heating during re-entry, another round of high-g deceleration, and finally operation in a thin atmosphere at still very low temperatures, you'll probably need the $10 part anyway. That it'll last virtually forever is just an added benefit.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32083414)

Yes because those savings will really start to add up as we mass produce rovers.

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (1)

Restil (31903) | more than 4 years ago | (#32084208)

Not only that, since we seem to crash 50% of everything we send to mars, you pretty much have to outlast your design requirements to get an average success rate.

The toughest part of the mission is just getting the thing on the ground in one piece. Some redundancy in engineering to hopefully make the rover last the failure of a few components will almost certainly ensure a long lifespan. Even so, don't forget we almost lost Spirit right in the beginning due to a software problem of all things. THAT would have sucked, especially considering how well the hardware has held up.

-Restil

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32081888)

People like you are everything that is wrong with today's society

Re:They lasted too long. Bad engineering. Big fias (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32082086)

Pure fail. You, sir, epitomize fail.

Re:incredible (1)

SpaceLifeForm (228190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080970)

Vista is still dead last I checked.

As seen on GKCD (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32081086)

Obligatory GKCD [goatkcd.com]

Shazam! (-1, Troll)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080554)

This is exciting. The knowledge contained within this crater will feed millions and advance the knowledge nessesary for the survival of the Human Race by many years, and reveal the secrets of oil spill clean up as an added bonus!

Re:Shazam! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32080616)

I bet there's a sticky note on the edge of the crater that has info on how to make Linux a popular desktop OS!

Re:Shazam! (1)

daveime (1253762) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081566)

It's a recommendation to use the "Morose Martian" distro ... no wait, they've already used "M" haven't they ?

Re:Shazam! (4, Insightful)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080622)

This is exciting. The knowledge contained within this crater will feed millions and advance the knowledge nessesary for the survival of the Human Race by many years, and reveal the secrets of oil spill clean up as an added bonus!

Um, not exactly. Though the discoveries made there could free the minds of millions of people and entice some of the brightest people on the planet to focus their talents on space sciences. Surely that has some value, too.

Re:Shazam! (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080730)

I was tempted to respond in a similar way to the GP's trollish comment, but yours went too far in the other direction.

the discoveries made there could free the minds of millions of people and entice some of the brightest people on the planet to focus their talents on space sciences

Come on, Opportunity has been on Mars for 6 years now and at this point they are just playing with a VERY cool RC car in the (Martian) dirt. It is not that expensive to run at this point and it is certainly worth keeping until it dies on the off chance of finding something interesting, but what discoveries that will excite millions have the rovers made in the last few years? None.

Re:Shazam! (3, Funny)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080846)

if they found life, numbnuts.

Re:Shazam! (2, Insightful)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081184)

if they found life, numbnuts.

The remains of a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias in the bottom of Endeavor crater would certainly create some interest.

But the long drives by Opportunity have actually been pretty interesting. It has found several meteors. It has also been able to study an increasingly wide area of mars. A long baseline helps a lot in science and I suspect data from Opportunity will be used decades into the future.

Also if not life, then maybe evidence of life elsewhere. A squatter probe (like phoenix and the vikings) would last longer on mars than on Earth.

Re:Shazam! (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#32083232)

The remains of a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias in the bottom of Endeavor crater would certainly create some interest.

Someone give this man a cigar ... and quick. I'd hate for the Inprobability Drive to turn it into something that Freud wouldn't be so approving of.

Re:Shazam! (-1, Troll)

daveime (1253762) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081576)

A species of plant that can survive in the Martian atmosphere could probably in fact feed millions. But as those millions are mostly in Africa, they'd probably just fuck it, give it AIDS, then go back to shooting their neighbours because they come from a different tribe.

Just saying ... most of the problems in Africa stem from the fact it's full of Africans.

Re:Shazam! (1)

Restil (31903) | more than 4 years ago | (#32084292)

In all fairness, when compared to the projects that government historically spends money on, blowing a couple hundred million bucks to drive a rc-car around on Mars doesn't seem like a bad investment.
At least NASA and its contractors have come up with a few useful tech advances as a byproduct of throwing stuff into space.

-Restil

Re:Shazam! (1)

Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080774)

This is exciting. The knowledge contained within this crater will feed millions and advance the knowledge nessesary for the survival of the Human Race by many years, and reveal the secrets of oil spill clean up as an added bonus!

I find your post very enlightening. Spirit and Opportunity should be supplied with Slashdot accounts and reprogrammed to post discouraging comments every few minutes. That would be far more helpful.

Re:Shazam! (4, Insightful)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081106)

There are still some people who believe that human achievement is a zero-sum game. Idiots, we call them.

Re:Shazam! (2, Interesting)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 4 years ago | (#32082774)

Actually, we would call those "eastern cultures". Only America, with its history of expansion and "go West, young man" thinks of life as growing the pie. The culture I've lived in for the past seven years does not have that idea at all - overcrowding within a confined space has a bad effect on a culture, making the zero-sum game the only way to live life. "If you win, then necessarily I must lose." This sort of thinking is pervasive and destructive. People will screw you over for no reason, none, other than they feel that there is no such thing as a win-win situation.

Re:Shazam! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32083790)

There are still some people who believe that human achievement is a zero-sum game. Idiots, we call them.

Economists, I call 'em.

Re:Shazam! (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081194)

Never happen. Halliburton is not invested in Mars.

Start the Reactor!! (2, Funny)

mozumder (178398) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080560)

FREE MARS!

Re:Start the Reactor!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32080820)

I'll take three, please.

Ah yes, (4, Funny)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080582)

" and could offer scientists more insight into the red planet's make-up"

Mars: the rouge planet!

Re:Ah yes, (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080668)

What a maverick!

Re:Ah yes, (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080892)

Weird, your "or this" sig link shows 10,909 sections, with the last being "Expansion of adoption credit and adoption assistance programs" as being part of chapter 49, "Cosmetic Services". I never thought of a living, breathing child as being "cosmetic" before.

Re:Ah yes, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32080968)

I Can't find it. Is it part of the cafeteria plan for small businesses?

Re:Ah yes, (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081226)

" and could offer scientists more insight into the red planet's make-up"

A planet full of Republicans?

Re:Ah yes, (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 4 years ago | (#32083208)

Either that or Communists.

Impact crater (1)

toppavak (943659) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080600)

Wouldn't a large impact just melt/fuse the underlying rock and destroy any evidence of interesting geological, hydrological or biological features?

Re:Impact crater (0)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080772)

not after however many million years since it's impact.

Re:Impact crater (4, Informative)

Strider- (39683) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081260)

It will cause deformations to the underlying rock strata, but that strata will still be visible and measurable. At the Haughton Impact crater in northern Canada, the cliffs that make up the crater rim maintain their structure. The material that was ejected has wound up as big breccia hills within the crater, and was also distributed around outside the crater.

Also, most of the hydrological (and dare I say hydrodynamical?) features actually come up after the impact, and can tell you a lot about the underlying mineralogy. As the heat from the impact dissipates, it heats water, which dissolves some minerals, which then bubble up to the surface. These hydro-thermal events that occur after the impact is also where you can best expect to find microbial life. In effect, you have all the needed ingredients for life present in a hydrothermal vent... warm, running water and associated minerals.

Re:Impact crater (4, Informative)

maxwells_deamon (221474) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081966)

Go to Metor Crater in Arizona and take the tour.

The impactor buries itself in the ground. then explodes. The explosion peals back the layers and stacks them upside down outside the crater like a shattered layer cake. They are easier to get to on the outside. That is why all the Apollo astronauts came to the crater to study geology.

Go here read the geology section
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteor_Crater [wikipedia.org]

cool stuff

 

Papers please... (1)

tivoKlr (659818) | more than 4 years ago | (#32084174)

Just remember to bring your papers to the crater. It is an impressive site, but I wouldn't want you to get detained in AZ.

Alternates to solar panels (3, Interesting)

LoudMusic (199347) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080658)

I wonder what alternates to solar panels they've considered. Seems like a satellite could collect solar energy 24.6583 by 7 and beam it to the rover(s) using microwave or something. And the rover could carry less equipment, not have to worry about dust so much, and operate around the clock.

Re:Alternates to solar panels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32080692)

Just think, if we actually had the microwave power transmission tech together, we could even try it out in earth orbit first.

Also, kudos for the "24.6583 by 7", but what makes you think a Martian week is 7 days?

Re:Alternates to solar panels (1)

sadness203 (1539377) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080754)

Actually, the satellite could collect energy 100% of the time, and beam it down when in range of the rover, no need to continuously power the device (unless there's no batteries )

Re:Alternates to solar panels (1, Funny)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080808)

so they'd need to launch a satellite and put it into mars orbit. yes very simple solution your guys have there...

Re:Alternates to solar panels (1)

icegreentea (974342) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081092)

They've done this numerous times in the past. Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Recon Orbiter, etc etc. If its a good idea, or would even work (from a power perspective) is different, but putting the satellites in orbit is doable. Infact, I suspect it's easier than actually landing the rovers. Not having to do all the breaking and stuff. Hell, I would think (can't confirm it anywhere), whenever you send payload over to Mars, you're going to go into a Mars orbit first before deorbiting onto the surface. So a single rocket could send the power sat, and the rover together.

Re:Alternates to solar panels (1)

sadness203 (1539377) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081470)

As a side bonus, the satellite can power multiple drone / base / whatever on the planet. So you can reduce future payload after that.

Re:Alternates to solar panels (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#32086226)

Not really, unless it has independently tracking antenna dishes for every drone/probe/rover/what have you. The more antennae you put on a satellite, the more independent control motors you have to use to operate them. This impacts the controllability of the satellite attitude in a very adverse manner. Every time you want to repoint a dish to track whatever it's particular target is, this induces a moment on the spacecraft. This moment has to be damped by the reaction wheels or CMG's on board and, all of this requires more power to power the satellite itself. The further you complicate the orbiter, the sooner you will reach a point of diminishing returns in your design where you will need so much power to power the orbiter that it will have little power to beam to its target. Add on top of that the fact that continuous drive motors are very expensive (and sometimes hard to find depending on the amount of torque you need them to drive) and you start having a very pricey, very large, very complicated spacecraft. That's not necessarily easy to put into orbit around another planet. The Global Surveyor and Recon Orbiter discussed above have the advantage that their instruments do not, necessarily, need to gimbal on their own to track targets. In fact, I think most of their instruments are fixed on the spacecraft bus. I think the spacecraft itself is pointed in order to target for those particular spacecraft. This is much simpler than a spacecraft that has multiple antennae each tracking a different target. You also have to consider overlapping fields of view of the antennae, controlling the thermal input and output of each antennae so you don't melt the TWTA's inside, and you are going to have a very tough time designing this spacecraft. That's not to say it is impossible, but I really think that trying to develop such a mission, at this time, would would be far riskier than the potential payoff...

Re:Alternates to solar panels (1)

sadness203 (1539377) | more than 4 years ago | (#32090414)

In fact, my idea was to power one device at a time, not multiple device continuously. (Kind of a quick charging.) But with all these technicalities, yeah, probably too much trouble.

Re:Alternates to solar panels (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32081278)

Because it took the Great Morloch 6 days to build Mars, and then he rested on the seventh. Don't kids know anything about galactic myth these days?

Re:Alternates to solar panels (2, Funny)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081538)

The proper physicist's notation is so boring. "A satellite could collector solar energy 1 of the time."

Re:Alternates to solar panels (1)

sparrowhead (1795632) | more than 4 years ago | (#32082290)

Solar panels are the most efficient technology for that job we have today. Microwave transmission requires antennas of huge size - km according to wikipedia [wikipedia.org] and using lasers you'd have to use panels similar the ones being used.

Martian calendar (1)

Atilla the Bun (948914) | more than 4 years ago | (#32082890)

Seems like a satellite could collect solar energy 24.6583 by 7

How do you know the Martian week is 7 days long?

Re:Alternates to solar panels (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#32083096)

They've done pretty well with solar.

What they considered was nuclear - the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) will be nuclear powered, and so will not have to rest for the winter.

The security implications of carrying a nuclear battery do substantially increase the mission cost, however.

Re:Alternates to solar panels (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 4 years ago | (#32083808)

Fine idea, except that it's a technology that has yet to be demonstrated in Earth orbit. Most of the research in this area is for Earth orbiting collectors to beam many megawatts of power. There are numerous technical difficulties that still need to be addressed. The size of the receiver, for one thing. For an orbiting solar power plant, the receiver would be many square kilometers in size. For the small power budget of a rover (100-500 W), the microwave receiver would be much larger than the rover itself. Beaming the power as a laser would require a smaller receiver, except that a laser receiver is essentially a solar panel, and would be prone to the same dust-up the rovers experience. There are issues with consistent tracking, too. All in all, it's a whole lot of complexity that, for what was billed as a 90-day mission, really doesn't win out against plain ol' solar panels.

For longer [wikipedia.org] or more power-hungry [wikipedia.org] missions, the preferred solution is nuclear-powered thermoelectric (RTG [wikipedia.org] s), which is dirt simple, has no moving parts, a predictable and reliable power output, and high energy density.

.

collect solar energy 24.6583 by 7

As only a slightly serious question: do weeks exist on mars? Maybe every day there is Tuesday.

how does that work? (1)

tacokill (531275) | more than 4 years ago | (#32084136)

Granted, I am not a sparky (Elect Engineer) so my knowledge might be lacking here....

How, exactly, can electricity/power be "beamed" from a satellite to the rover? As far as I know, we can't "beam" any significant amount of electricity because so much is lost in the medium. While I know it's possible to do some induction (like Wii remote chargers), I don't think that technology scales up very well.

Can you explain this please?

Re:how does that work? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#32084772)

By microwave, light, or other EM frequencies to which Mars' atmosphere is transparent.

Re:how does that work? (1)

tacokill (531275) | more than 4 years ago | (#32085358)

Light? Microwave? Ok, either I am really a newb at eletricity or I am not catching what you are saying.

Let's take the light example. In other words, a laser. Can you build a laser big enough (as well as a receiver that is big enough) to transmit the energy required to run one of these rovers? I am asking a question about scale. I realize you can transfer some energy via laser. My question is: can you transfer enough to run a Rover? I don't think you can. I don't think we have advanced the technology even close to achieving that.

Same problem with microwave or any other non-wired technology. If this could be done from satellite to the mars surface, then why don't we all have "wireless power cords" by now?

Re:how does that work? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#32092788)

Let's take the light example. In other words, a laser. Can you build a laser big enough (as well as a receiver that is big enough) to transmit the energy required to run one of these rovers? I am asking a question about scale. I realize you can transfer some energy via laser. My question is: can you transfer enough to run a Rover? I don't think you can. I don't think we have advanced the technology even close to achieving that.

Yes, you can transfer enough. Getting that capability into Mars orbit is a different and currently very expensive problem. Just look at the power levels of lasers currently in operation. My understanding is that we already have continuous lasers in the 1 to 10 kW continuous range. They'll have to be green or blue, I think, to be usable by solar panels.

Same problem with microwave or any other non-wired technology. If this could be done from satellite to the mars surface, then why don't we all have "wireless power cords" by now?

Because the economics doesn't make sense. Do you want to pay say $1 to $100 per kilowatt-hour when you could plug into the wall for $0.10 per kilowatt-hour power?

Re:Alternates to solar panels (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#32086098)

That seems like a very complicated and risky solution to a simpler problem. We have yet to proof of concept solar collectors and microwave energy transfer from orbit combination technologies here on Earth. Trying to do that for a semi-autonomous, moving rover on a distant planet would be....um...tricky and risky. If they don't like solar panels (which, admittedly, do have their limitations) I would think their first alternative power source of consideration would be an RTG [wikipedia.org] . That would give them a nice long lived, steady, consistent power supply without all the tracking, communications, extra satellite hardware that an on orbit solution would provide. However, as long as you are inside the asteroid belt, the kJ/m^2 of sunlight is decent enough that solar panels make sense from a cost and simplicity point of view. Anyways, the first rule of spacecraft engineering is to keep things as simple as possible. If you start trying exotic methods of doing something just because they seem cool, it tends to complicate your entire design uncontrollably. It's better to do a full advantage/disadvantage trade study of various options and see which one, objectively, meets mission requirements the best. I would be highly suspect if an on-orbit solar collection system turned out to be that answer....

Re:Alternates to solar panels (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#32092384)

I wonder what alternates to solar panels they've considered. Seems like a satellite could collect solar energy 24.6583 by 7 and beam it to the rover(s) using microwave or something. And the rover could carry less equipment, not have to worry about dust so much, and operate around the clock.

I understand the current obstacle is converting that power to electricity again. For example, I was informed that if you use somewhere around 2-3 GHz frequency for your beam, then you're limited to somewhere around 200 W per square meter (which is roughly comparable with solar on Mars for efficient solar panels) due to the breakdown voltage of the Schottky diode, which is needed to rectify the microwaves to DC current and the effective area of a dipole antenna (more or less the smallest effective antenna you can have). Maybe it can be made much better with a higher frequency and higher breakdown voltage Schottky diodes, but your power densities are limited by these things.

Re:Alternates to solar panels (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#32096250)

Uuum, you do know that there is already a huge satellite there, that beams power down all the time? It’s called the sun!
And just as much as any “power beam”, it transmits the energy in form of electromagnetic waves.
And guess what the dust would do to those satellite’s EM waves...

Exactly.

robots in space, why bother with humans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32080720)

Considering the success of robots like this and their small price, why is Congress so bloody interested in expensive human things like the space station? Get rid of the humans and send more robots!

Re:robots in space, why bother with humans? (3, Interesting)

eln (21727) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081854)

These rovers are great, and there's no denying the incredible engineering and workmanship that went into them. However, given the speed they are capable of traveling and the limited equipment they have on board, I can't help thinking that all the science they've accomplished over these many years could have been done in about 3 days by an actual human. A human can walk much faster than these rovers can travel, and a human is capable of interpreting data without having to wait 30 minutes each way for communications from the Earth.

The robots may be much cheaper, but a human on the surface of the planet would be much more efficient.

Re:robots in space, why bother with humans? (3, Informative)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32082178)

Funny how you should mention equipment, when a manned mission would have to carry huge, huge amounts of equipment to make sure said squishy little thing doesn't die on the way there from temperature, radiation, lack of air, water or food. Same goes for heat shields, parachutes and thrusters to not get killed during landing - landing like the rovers would leave them a bloody smear. Again all the environmental requirements applies on the planet, you'd need a huge solar panel just to keep the habitat at a survivable temperature. Most likely their operational reach is limited by getting home by nightfall when it's -80C (-110F) at best. Never mind that they probably want a way to return home that'll take even more room for a launch vehicle. In short, the whole expedition is huge long before you have the tiniest bit of scientific equipment.

Re:robots in space, why bother with humans? (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#32083154)

Robotic exploration of the planets has been tried, and found to be incredibly slow. This is partially technology, and partially politics, but the experiment has been tried, and that's the result.

Here is an example - the Viking Mars orbiters were assumed to not need biological sterilization and were put in an orbit with a 50 year lifetime, because surely in 50 years we would know if there was life on Mars, right ? 50 years from Viking is 2025, which is now not that far off. (And, incidentally, the satellite orbit people are worried that the orbiters orbit may not have the expected life-time , and may have already decayed.) We are highly unlikely to know if there is life on Mars by 2025. 50 years to answer a basic question.

Heck, we don't even know if there is liquid water on the surface (which there should be, in places at times). We don't know what the soil is made of.

One week after the first manned mission arrives at Mars, its robotic exploration will become a footnote.

Re:robots in space, why bother with humans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32084148)

Perhaps, but the difficulty in sending humans keeps this a one-sided competition. And the rate at which robots are going to improve will happen vastly faster than the rate at which we're going to solve all the problems with sending people to Mars and back.

Robots have been overwhelmingly more successful at exploring other planets and their moons and asteroids than people have. This trend will continue. - j

Mars Robotic Missions Positive (1)

barutiwa (1796520) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080724)

Interesting. We don't know how close we are to finding life on Mars. Keep an eye on the data sent back by these robotic missions.

Late-breaking news from the Council! (4, Funny)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080796)

It has been years in the making but NASA said its Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has captured a new view of the rim of the planet's Endeavour crater, perhaps the rover's ultimate destination. The Mars rover set out for Endeavour in September 2008 after spending two years exploring the Victoria crater. NASA says Endeavour is 13 miles across, some 25 times wider than Victoria crater, and could offer scientists more insight into the red planet's make-up."

K'breel, speaker for the Council, emphasized that the site for the final battle was well-defended:

"Gentle citizens, it has been years since the twin mechanized monsters touched down on our sweet red soil, but the Council is pleased to report that the last remaining mobile invader from the blue planet has been sighted by sentries approaching the rim of End-Devaur crater. The invader set out for End-Devaur last summer after spending a year at Victory Hole; Planetary Land Defense Forces have pinpointed the invader's location to a point in the trackless wastes at least half a year's journey from End-Devaur."

"The enemy's slow progress across the wastelands leaves us with ample time to amass an overwhelming counterforce, and at last we shall see this campaign through to its end. Rejoice! Within half a revolution around our star, this monstrosity from the blue world shall find its ultimate destination!"

When a junior reporter mentioned the persistent rumor that the invader was merely a scientific probe operating at least order of magnitude past its design lifespan, K'Breel raised a spirited toast "to an opportunity for victory!", and devoured the ends of the reporter's gelsacs.

Re:Late-breaking news from the Council! (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080870)

Thank you! I'd been missing the updates from K'breel!!!

Obl. XKCD (3, Interesting)

ejtttje (673126) | more than 4 years ago | (#32080966)

In case anyone hasn't seen it, although featuring Spirit not Opportunity, still applies: http://xkcd.com/695/ [xkcd.com]

Re:Obl. XKCD (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32081348)

Objectives met (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081170)

Since all planned objectives have been met, how about sending one rover to other rover and pull it out of its hole. Then, working as a team, explore MARS together in the true "spirit" of cooperation.
What an "opportunity"!

Re:Objectives met (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081286)

For me this is an example of how equipment generally can last longer away from Earth. Our environment is corrosive and toxic. Water gets into enclosures. Metals oxidize. Science stations in open space last the longest. On Venus they last the shortest time. Mars is nearer to the long end of the spectrum for survival time.

If I was going to be programmed into a robot I might choose to live in the asteroid belt. Things decay slower there.

Re:Objectives met (1)

iris-n (1276146) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081490)

Pretty interesting life, you'd have.

Re:Objectives met (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | more than 4 years ago | (#32083638)

because they are on opposite sides of the planet, and move so slowly, that it would take lso long to drive one to the other that it would be your grandchildren who got to see it done.

Crossing my fingers (1)

tpstigers (1075021) | more than 4 years ago | (#32081238)

Here's hoping the rover will stay functional until the release of 'John Carter of Mars' (2012, according to IMDB).

i totally (0, Offtopic)

upyourshomo (1803732) | more than 4 years ago | (#32082514)

just busted a load! Right on your mom's rover!

Next target, please (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#32083160)

Not ultimate. Next.

Re:Next target, please (1)

WeatherGod (1726770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32087710)

I do know what you are getting at and I don't want to see them die, but I don't think you quite grasp how *big* this crater is. It is 13 miles in diameter. Opportunity's total odometer is under 13 miles. It still has another 8 miles to go to reach the crater. Then, to even get *around* would require a doubling of its current lifetime. The crater is just *that* big.

No, sadly, this will be the ultimate destination, but it will be an AMAZING one!

So much for ... (1)

mshmgi (710435) | more than 4 years ago | (#32083648)

planned obsolescence.

Success vs failure (1)

emaname (1014225) | more than 4 years ago | (#32087862)

I get the impression that this is a debate between optimists and pessimists; ie, is the glass half empty or half full?

Personally, I'm with the optimists on this one.

the red planet's makeup (1)

Curate (783077) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088296)

... could offer scientists more insight into the red planet's makeup.

The secret is this: Blush. Lots and lots of blush.

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