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Getting the Latest Rover To Mars

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the ftd-take-note dept.

Mars 191

derGoldstein writes "New Scientist has a great video up detailing every step of how the latest Mars rover will reach its target and get deployed. It's drastically different than the bouncing air-bag delivery system previously used (YouTube video)."

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first! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868000)

first post :)

Re:first! (1, Funny)

Vecanti (2384840) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868012)

Yeah, well.. first, "Get your ass to mars!"

Stop me if I'm wrong but... (2)

N_Piper (940061) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868004)

Won't all that extra propellant for the various deceleration stages add up to a lot more than the bouncing airbag thingie in the end?

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868014)

It also seems a lot less reliable. Much more can go wrong

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (2)

wetpainter (2271496) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868026)

Yes, the first time I saw this a few weeks ago my first thoughts were "there is so much that can go wrong here". I hope it makes it to the surface in one piece.

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868076)

The rover is too big/heavy for the bounce trick they used for the previous ones.
Heat shield/parachute entry is not complicated. Apollo era technology.
The retro rockets are like what the moon landers used. Also Apollo era technology.

The only new thing here is the tether. I suspect it uses explosive bolts to release and that is Apollo era tech.

While it looks complicated, I think we should have mastered those things pretty well by now.

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (3)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868144)

While it looks complicated, I think we should have mastered those things pretty well by now.

It's not rocket sci—oh, wait.

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868166)

MER and Sojurner used a similar tether. It just attached to the airbags/etc instead of the rover itself. Retros fired, and then the beachball detached from the tether at a minimum, etc.

If you look at the MER video, starting around 2 minutes, you'll see so many similarities you could almost use one video as a source for the other.

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868454)

Uh huh...Ever hear of KISS, emphasis on the last S as in stupid? Lets see what can go wrong....

Okay first you are gonna have to have the computer control perfectly align re-entry using those little thrusters all of which have to fire perfectly or it burns up, THEN you have to have a perfect chute deployment AND the heat shield drop, THEN you have to have, again perfectly timed mind you, the chute unit drop and then FOUR thrusters have to be perfectly computer controlled and fire EXACTLY right to give it a picture perfect three point landing and THEN it has to perfectly release all those lines or when the final unit kicks up the thrust to pull away it is liable to flip the thing or damage it.

Oh yeah piece of cake!.....I give 20 to 1 against the thing. Anybody know what the bookies in Vegas are giving on this jobbie?

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (1)

Arrepiadd (688829) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868692)

So tell us your solution then. You seem to be much better at it than NASA...

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868840)

The one thing that computers are exceedingly good at is perfect timing.

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868956)

They are also good at calculating centimeters from inches IF somebody tells them to.

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868124)

I'm thinking this is a "Look, we're NASA employees and we're actually pretty good at this stuff. We landed guys on the moon this way more than 40 years ago and my supervisor said it was OK"

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868962)

Of course, the required response to that is "Ok, now were there any imperial to metric conversions [wikipedia.org] involved?"

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (2)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868054)

It's too large for airbags.

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868252)

It's not to large for airbags, it's just to heavy for a parachute. Remember that Mars' atmosphere is way thiner than ours so with the mass of Curiosity, you wouldn't be able to get the desired air drag out of it.

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (1)

BagOBones (574735) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868058)

When I saw the last stage I almost fell out of my chair!. What the hell happened to keeping it simple!

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (5, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868150)

When I saw the last stage I almost fell out of my chair!. What the hell happened to keeping it simple!

It's no worse than the various lunar landers. The real question is whether they can get the budget to send that much mass to Mars.

Landing anything big on Mars turns out to be quite hard. [universetoday.com] There's not enough atmosphere for a soft parachute landing. But there's enough atmosphere to require a heat shield while plowing through it. Then there's not enough atmosphere to brake from Mach 5 to Mach 1 before running out of altitude. There's too much gravity for a full rocket-powered descent. A rocket facing into the atmosphere won't work until the craft has slowed below supersonic speeds.

That's what leads to what looks like an overly complex system.

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868328)

Although I applaud you explaining it so well; who cares, its fucking cool.

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (5, Funny)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868430)

"Running out of altitude" is the most awesome synonym for hitting the ground I've yet heard.

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (4, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868878)

Lithobraking [wikipedia.org]

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868976)

That would be more Obama Newspeak when the economy collapses, i.e. The economy has entered a new paradigmic slowdown, so the "soft patch" will no longer threaten the recovery because the excessive negative growth has disproportionate downward pressure on the economy. The Whitehouse will also spin the Obama Depression in accordance to Obama Newspeak as "Post-Industrial American Progress".

To wit, Obama's playing with semantics: The medical operation(Quantitative Easing) was a brilliant success; alas, the patient inconsiderately died(US economy).

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (2)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868536)

It's no worse than the various lunar landers.

...There's not enough atmosphere for a soft parachute landing.

The lunar landings were easier because there was no atmosphere. The problem here is that there *is* an atmosphere, but, as you mention, it's too thin for just parachutes. So you have to deal with re-entry heat, wind, particles flying around (all the "bad" stuff that comes with landing on a planet with an atmosphere), but you don't get to just pop a triple-parachute the way they return objects for a soft landing on earth.

I'm sure they know what they're doing, they've had some experience at this after all. But just as a superficial observation, I have to agree with the previous comment -- it *seems* overly complicated.

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868838)

As an armchair space scientist with absolutely no knowledge about this I'm telling you it won't work based on some vague concept that nothing complex ever works!

The difference is size (4, Informative)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868068)

This rover is FAR larger the current ones, those tires? Not cute cart wheels, they are roughly the same size as a car tire. The entire vehicle is easily the size of a large SUV although far more open. (Hey nasa, if you want to make things understandable how about instead of adding sounds in space, maybe project a human next to thing so we get a sense of scale)

A bouncing ball for this vehicle wouldn't need to be far to large. It is the old story of how spider won't even notice a 4 meter fall, a human would shatter bones and an elephant would go splat.

There are a lot of risks with this method, so many parts that can fail, but if you want something big to land safely...

Not that this is new. There are airdrop uses on this planet that involve just wrapping what you want to drop in something bouncy and throwing it out of an aircraft, works for small supplies in remote areas where a parachute might drift to far and the russians have used rocket decelerated chute systems for dropping tanks out of aircraft. Because finding enough bubble wrap for a tank is a hard.

Did I complain yet about the sound in space? Yes? Well, it is a pretty big fucking issue. Everything you need to know about the US can be summarized as a NASA science video having sound in space... why not go the whole way and include cute green aliens on mars to show the life you might have found if Mars wasn't the hell hole it is?

Re:The difference is size (1)

pahles (701275) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868104)

(Hey nasa, if you want to make things understandable how about instead of adding sounds in space, maybe project a human next to thing so we get a sense of scale)

It's about the size of a mini cooper.

Re:The difference is size (1)

Centurix (249778) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868268)

Does it have doors that blow off near landing?

Re: size (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868112)

It's not the size, it's how you use it. ;-)

Re:The difference is size (5, Informative)

naff (150984) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868140)

Not showing the scale of the rover is inexcusable! Thank you for mentioning it.

Here are some people next to it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mars_Science_Laboratory_wheels.jpg [wikipedia.org]

Re:The difference is size (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868358)

That's a pretty small SUV.

C'mon, NASA! Put a Humvee on Mars!

Re:The difference is size (1)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868594)

...and maybe while you're at it, put some people in that Humvee?
(yeah yeah, I know, different debate entirely)

Re:The difference is size (1)

node 3 (115640) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868360)

That photo really should be at the beginning of the animation. It would provide some context that makes an already rather impressive landing even more so.

Re:The difference is size (1)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868646)

And then compare it to the previous rovers: here [wikipedia.org] and here [wikipedia.org] .
The Curiosity Rover weighs almost a ton(!). Not that the Phoenix is any lightweight.

Re:The difference is size (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868142)

A more engineering centric view [engineerin...lenges.org] of your general point.

And yes, the sounds were stupid.

Re:The difference is size (1, Interesting)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868148)

Space is not entirely soundless. If you were to put a microphone nearby a rocket nozzle, or thrusters firing, you would record sound. Likewise, if the microphone were attached to the vehicle while it was undergoing stage separation you would record sound. I'm not gonna say the video was perfectly technically accurate, but you can't just say "no sound in space" either.

Re:The difference is size (2)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868584)

I'm gonna be overly literal and note that "no sound in space" is exactly the statement you can make. What you're describing is monitoring the vibrations going through solid objects, and/or placing a microphone in the path of the expanding gas exiting the thrusters. If you placed a microphone literally "in space" a few feet away from the vehicle, you'd hear nothing.

Re:The difference is size (2)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868892)

If you read the ALSJ [nasa.gov] there are plenty of examples of sound transmission on the moon. Sitting on the lunar rover, the crew could hear the electric motors through the seats they were sitting on. Striking a rock or tool with a hammer, astronauts could hear the sound of impact through their suits, and this sound was transmitted to the other astronaut via radio.

Re:The difference is size (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868154)

Did I complain yet about the sound in space? Yes? Well, it is a pretty big fucking issue. Everything you need to know about the US can be summarized as a NASA science video having sound in space...

Sound doesn't get transmitted through space, but a microphone mounted on the rover would have easily picked up all the sounds in the video.

Re:The difference is size (1)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868562)

We're used to listening to sound moving through air. If you placed a microphone on the body of the vehicle, you'd get vibration readings, but they wouldn't "sound" like that, you'd hear a lot of spikes and creaking. But we're kind of nit-picking -- they wanted the video to be interesting, and adding sound to what we'd expect to *produce* sound makes it seem more natural.

Re:The difference is size (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868590)

If the gas exhausted from the retro rockets reaches the microphone and has enough density to move the microphone membrane, sound would be heard.

No get off my lawn:).

Re:The difference is size (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868156)

We all know martians either look much like Ray Walston with antennae or were ovoid creatures whose feet doubled as hands. They sure liked Tang a lot.

Re:The difference is size (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868298)

Whats the big deal with no sound in space? The sound helps you understand whats going on in terrestrial terms. You can transplant that understanding to space readily enough. The timeframe of the video is compressed to unreality. There are no captions in space. Why no objections to those? You get to choose what elements of reality are appropriate to fudge in a video like this and which ones must be conveyed with 100% veracity?

Re:The difference is size (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868382)

Not only is this one huge this sucker is nuclear note the lack of solar panels next step full robots to do various prep tasks for human landing.

Re:Stop me if I'm wrong but... (1)

northernfrights (1653323) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868310)

But you can't control where the airbag lump ends up, which means it can get stuck on a rock. Plus, if the capsule malfunctions after landing properly you've got the rover trapped inside.

More open/public oversight is good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868006)

"Hey, you realize that input field is in meters, right?"

Too complex (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868048)

I thought NASA learnt that a small number of complex and expensive projects wasn't the way to go in the 90s. Smaller, cheaper, faster, but more of them, makes more sense.

I hope it works, I really do. But there are so many single points of failure I can see which could kill or severely limit the success of this mission.

Re:Too complex (1)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868056)

A small rover or lander can only carry a small amount of instruments. If you want to do serious science, you need a reasonable number of those.

Re:Too complex (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868078)

Yeah, a squad of mini-rovers coordinated with a mesh network. Maybe we could get people to root for that team instead of the useless ones in the NFL?

Re:Too complex (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868122)

A small rover or lander can only carry a small amount of instruments. If you want to do serious science, you need a reasonable number of those.

But a single big rover with lots of instruments is useless if it's lost due to a hugely complex landing system failure, or the instruments can't be used due to a failed arm that has to rotate in multiple ways to deploy and return on each use.

From the video the entire system seems way too complex to me. I hope it's been well tested.

Re:Too complex (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868158)

OTOH, the whole mission is complex. Launching a rocket and guiding it to Mars has many potential points of failure, yet we've done it almost routinely. This new system allows a much larger payload to be landed. So it's progress.

Re:Too complex (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868064)

..... But there are so many single points of failure ....

lolwut ?

Re:Too complex (2)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868324)

"Single point of failure" is an engineering term. A system can have any number of them.

Re:Too complex (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868870)

'if this single part of this entire system breaks, the whole thing is fubar. Also this part here, if IT breaks, the whole thing explodes. Or this part over here, if it falls off to soon? the whole thing crashes to the ground like a Volkswagen dropped off of a bridge.' single point of failure.

When Martians Attack (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868066)

I see that it has a laser. I hope that laser is beefy enough to let it make like a land shark and defend itself if the Martians stumbleupon it.

Dibs on crash (0)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868114)

I bet it will crash. Too complex, too many points of failure.

If the chance of failure of a part of the system is one in a million, in a system consisting of a million parts something WILL break. --Stanislaw Lem.

Also, did they do away with solar cells? I guess they don't want to risk another runaway project that extends a decade beyond schedule "because it failed to break".

Re:Dibs on crash (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868200)

They originally designed it to go without solar cells. It's got a nuclear reactor (radioisotope generator, anyway).

There was some talk a few years ago about it exceeding power budget, and needing an augment of solar cells, but I don't see anything on that with a cursory search. So they may have fixed it.

Re:Dibs on crash (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868248)

That's terrible probability, like saying if I flip a coin twice I'm guaranteed to get a heads and a tails.

Unless Calculator has failed me, a 1 million part machine (with each part having a 1 in a million fail rate) has around a 63.2% chance of failing.

Re:Dibs on crash (3, Interesting)

Solandri (704621) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868998)

Unless Calculator has failed me, a 1 million part machine (with each part having a 1 in a million fail rate) has around a 63.2% chance of failing.

No need for a calculator. This type of problem (1 in n chance of an event occurring, what are the odds of it occurring in m trials, when n=m?) converges to 1 - 1/e. The total number of failures adds up to 100% (it has to be to maintain the original odds), but some of those outcomes are multiple failures (i.e. 2+ parts failing on your million part machine). If you have 100 letters which you randomly put into 100 mailboxes, some of those mailboxes will get 2+ letters, meaning obviously that some mailboxes will not get any letters. As it turns out, it's 1/e mailboxes which get no letters, and 1 - 1/e mailboxes which get at least 1 letter.

Dude you SUCK! (1)

arcite (661011) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868340)

With pessimism like that, how to you do walk outside? You might fall in a manhole or get hit by a bus. Did it not occur to you that just maybe, the landing method used was deemed the best chance for success? Well then again, you're no rocket scientist are you?

Re:Dude you SUCK! (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868898)

The original Ranger [wikipedia.org] landers were redesigned because the design was too complex and kept failing. The second version had a whole lot of needless requirements taken out and worked very well.

Re:Dibs on crash (1)

node 3 (115640) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868408)

What's the deal with all the "it's too complex, it'll crash" posts here?

What's the deal with nerds these days? You never accomplish what you don't try. Maybe it will crash, but maybe it won't. Better than not trying at all. And this is the sort of thing that should bring wonder and excitement to the people this site's masthead references.

Re:Dibs on crash (1)

Joe Tie. (567096) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868786)

What's the deal with nerds these days?

Not nerds, nerds on slashdot. That's a huge difference. Slashdot obviously has strong points, that's why I'm here. But one of the weak points is an aging user base. And old nerds face the same thing as old non-nerds. Most people just get scared of risks the older they get.

Re:Dibs on crash (1)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868986)

I'm wondering what exactly you consider "aging", but anyway: How about "with age comes experience"? Nerds tend to work in technical fields, and experience in pretty much any technical field will teach you that the more complex a system is, the more likely it is to fail. Now, obviously you've got an entire battalion of nerds working at NASA, many of whom are "aging", so I'm assuming that they're relying on their age/experience to make the right decisions.

I also don't see how "an aging user base" is a weakness, which we don't even know to be the case, unless you've got access to demographic information that I don't. It's entirely possible that more "aging" users have stopped visiting the site, compared to the new ones that have joined.

Re:Dibs on crash (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868574)

And I bet the project will be scrapped due to budget cuts long before it's ever launched.

Re:Dibs on crash (1)

Urkki (668283) | more than 3 years ago | (#36869000)

I bet it will crash. Too complex, too many points of failure.

That's why you should have budget for 2nd and 3rd try from the start. Getting as complex a thing as this right from the start is hard, so hard it might be cheaper to not try quite so hard (law of dimnishing returns and all that), but instead prepare for crash and new mission which will not crash, at least not for the same reason. That's the single most important reason to do robotic and not manned missions: crash can be an option, if having it as an option is overall cheaper.

The Moon (2)

Vecanti (2384840) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868128)

I never understood what is so exciting about Mars. It's fairly far away. Start close. We should have a small colony on the Moon by now. We should be there learning how to do it right now. Once we get it figured out close to home, let's actually go to Mars instead of just sending rover after rover.

Re:The Moon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868178)

These rovers can do pretty much everything you want on Mars except the colony part.

Re:The Moon (1)

Vecanti (2384840) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868222)

I kind of feel like the rovers have been so successful that they've killed that human spirit of actual exploration. Yeah, the rovers can do pretty much everything as you say, but there's something missing. I think a lot people are left satisfied with that, but maybe humanity is missing out not taking that next step off the planet. Though I'm sure we'll get there eventually I was just hoping to see it in my lifetime.

Re:The Moon (1)

wesleyjconnor (1955870) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868244)

Not alot to do on the moon...
or mars for that matter

Re:The Moon (1)

Vecanti (2384840) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868308)

Not alot to do on the moon...
or mars for that matter

...or North Dakota


Anyway on the Moon... Tourism? Drive around those kick as 6 wheeled moon rovers?

If I had a choice between North Dakota and the Moon for vacation, I'd choose the Moon.

Re:The Moon (1)

node 3 (115640) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868420)

From a scientific point of view, Mars is a much more interesting world than the Moon (not to put down the Moon, there's quite a bit of science to be done there, but it's just that Mars is extremely more interesting).

As for colonies, I'm right there with you. LEO station -> Moon colonies -> Martian colonies. We should already be working on the last of those three, but instead we can barely seem to manage the first one.

Re:The Moon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868488)

martian colonies. meh. how would you get the funding to transport significant amounts of earthlings there. i suggest that we stop dicking around in space until we come up with a reasonable mode of transportation, fusion drive or something. if we were to spend our time and energy coming up with something better than glorified fireworks we might actually make significant steps towards really getting of this rock.

Re:The Moon (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868624)

As for colonies, I'm right there with you. LEO station -> Moon colonies -> Martian colonies. We should already be working on the last of those three, but instead we can barely seem to manage the first one.

That is another side benefit of this new landing system. You are not going to airbag humans onto Mars, and an entire ship housing three or so astronauts (like the lunar landers) will need a landing system like this. Remember, the moon has half the gravity and none of the atmosphere of Mars. The retrorockets used on the lunar landers won't work on Mars. We need to develop heavy-landing capabilities there. By comparison, heavy-launching there will be easy.

Re:The Moon (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868884)

just to throw a wrench in your colonization fantasies, did you know (and i learned this from a former NASA employee) that the astronauts who spent a year in orbit on the space station, pretty much to the man, are all ending up needing cataract surgery now? its from the radiation. Turns out, being in space for a year is REALLY bad for you long term, and the eyes are just the first to show it.

Re:The Moon (1)

KeensMustard (655606) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868484)

Perhaps the excitement about Mars is that it IS further away. At least, slightly. In astronomical terms it is very close indeed. In any case I think you've assumed that the point of sending probes is to somehow precede a human colony. That is not the point at all - the probes replace the requirement for humans. So by sending probes, we learn about the destination environment, but we also get valuable feedback about remotely operating probes - which we then use to build better probes. One of the interesting facts about the Apollo missions was that even then, NASA knew that humans are really unsuited to space. They proposed to send a probe to Mars in response to advances made by the Soviet Union. Kennedy thought that landing a man on the moon made a better statement about American supremacy. It was never about advancing the human race at all. What we knew then, we know doubly now.

Re:The Moon (2)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868486)

Who is going to build that colony? Not hundreds of humans in bulky suits who need to be supplied with oxygen, nutrients and shelter, who can work less than twelve out of twenty-four hours, and are easily injured or bored. Most of the large-scale construction (before a pressurized habitable area can even exist) must be done robotically because it's too dangerous and taxing.
Figuring out how to engineer remotely guided robots and how to keep them from failing is at least as much part of these rover missions as exploring Mars.

Power? (1)

tragedy (27079) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868136)

How is this powered? Not the landing stages, the rover itself? The video doesn't show any solar cells on the rover. Are they omitted from the simulation for simplicity, or is it using some sort of radiosotope battery. The video mentioned it had a planned life of two years. If that's the case, and given the size of the thing, then it almost has to be. That makes perfect sense of course, it's the ideal use of the technology. But don't they always run into political obstacles when they launch anything with "nuclear" in the name?

Re:Power? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868172)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Science_Laboratory#Power_source [wikipedia.org]

The Curiosity rover will be powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), as used by the successful Mars landers Viking 1 and Viking 2 in 1976.[29][30] Radioisotope power systems are generators that produce electricity from the natural decay of plutonium-238, which is a non-fissile isotope of plutonium used in power systems for NASA spacecraft. Heat given off by the natural decay of this isotope is converted into electricity, providing constant power during all seasons and through the day and night, and waste heat can be used via pipes to warm systems, freeing electrical power for the operation of the vehicle and instruments.[29][30]

The Curiosity power source will use the latest RTG generation built by Boeing, called the "Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator" or MMRTG.[31] Based on classical RTG technology, it represents a more flexible and compact development step,[31] and is designed to produce 125 watts of electrical power at the start of the mission and 100 watts after its minimum lifetime of 14 years.[32][33] The MSL will generate 2.5 kilowatt hours per day compared to the Mars Exploration Rovers which can generate about 0.6 kilowatt hours per day.[13]

Re:Power? (1)

tagno25 (1518033) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868210)

Power source
The Curiosity rover will be powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), as used by the successful Mars landers Viking 1 and Viking 2 in 1976. Radioisotope power systems are generators that produce electricity from the natural decay of plutonium-238, which is a non-fissile isotope of plutonium used in power systems for NASA spacecraft. Heat given off by the natural decay of this isotope is converted into electricity, providing constant power during all seasons and through the day and night, and waste heat can be used via pipes to warm systems, freeing electrical power for the operation of the vehicle and instruments.
The Curiosity power source will use the latest RTG generation built by Boeing, called the "Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator" or MMRTG. Based on classical RTG technology, it represents a more flexible and compact development step, and is designed to produce 125 watts of electrical power at the start of the mission and 100 watts after its minimum lifetime of 14 years. The MSL will generate 2.5 kilowatt hours per day compared to the Mars Exploration Rovers which can generate about 0.6 kilowatt hours per day.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Science_Laboratory#Power_source

Re:Power? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868260)

Re:Power? (1)

tragedy (27079) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868436)

Thanks. The question of whether or not it was radioisotope powered was a little silly as the answer was fairly obvious and easy to find. The question of how they can manage to launch it from a point of view of politics and negative publicity was my real question. That goes a good way towards answering it. Still, it's always possible it could get some unwanted NIMBY attention before its launch. People can get kind of funny about a few kilograms of plutonium even when the greatest risk in the worst case scenario is that it might fall on someone.

Life on Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868164)

Back in the 1970s the Viking probes had experiments to determine whether there was life on Mars. The answer was, depending on who you talk to, negative or inconclusive. You might think by now one of the landers we sent would have carried something to make that a definite positive or negative. Instead, it seems to be more experiments that are relevant to the question but not clearly answering it. Surely on a truck-sized rover we can afford to address this? Or are there political issues?

New Scientist / Facebook Font (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868194)

When did New Scientist start using the Facebook font in their logo ?

Complex (1)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868220)

Almost as complex as Apollo 11 supposedly was. Maybe someday we'll make it to the moon.

Re:Complex (1)

FhnuZoag (875558) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868572)

Well, we went through multiple failures before and after Apollo 11...

Incredible! (1)

wesleyjconnor (1955870) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868240)

I spent half the time thinking how freaking cool and the other half thinking isnt that MANY points of failure?
I thought the beauty of the cushion landing was so few moving parts.
that hover entry vehicle lowering the rover to the ground is straight out of a video game!

Re:Incredible! (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868896)

you design a portable cushion that can be deployed from the vehicle it has to catch, that can catch a Volkswagen dropped from ANY hight, and then call nasa. This rover is *huge* compared to previous rovers, dropping it *at all* is not an option.

Recover the Spirit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868274)

Could this thing, if equipped with a small rotary brush or air-blasting tool and a grasping tool of some sort, dislodge the Spirit and make it as good as new?

Although the Spirit is small and less advanced by comparison, surely it would still serve some purpose as an auxiliary to Curiosity. Right?

Re:Recover the Spirit? (2)

node 3 (115640) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868438)

It could, but that would mean landing in the same area. Mars is quite large, and it would be a shame to send a probe to the same location unless that location happens to be of extremely notable interest (such as either a potential human landing site, or something truly unique in almost science fiction proportions).

Awe (4, Insightful)

Spigot the Bear (2318678) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868282)

I am in absolute awe after watching the video about the new rover. As people bicker over whether NASA's miniscule budget is worth it, because "space isn't important", it's nice that NASA can still bring out that child-like wonder in me. How can you not be amazed that we can send a robot like this to another planet, land it safely with precision, and study the composition of the planet from millions of miles away? Isn't that awe worth a few billion dollars a year, even if "it doesn't benefit me"?

(Also, it has a laser tricorder. I mean, come on.)

Re:Awe (1)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868744)

But we're the 'type' of people who would get excited over this. To someone who isn't technical in any way whatsoever, all this seems like is "well, they put another 6-wheeler on mars... How many times am I supposed to get excited about that?". There are a lot of people who think that any space research is a waste, and this time you can't even show them a human doing the exploring, just "those RC cars".

I really wish it weren't the case. The first time I saw the scale of the Curiosity rover my jaw dropped, and we're just ~1 year away from it landing. But many people only see the billions spent into this, and can't make any connection between that and anything useful "back on earth".
Not to mention, this is relatively easy to publicize, because "it sends back pictures". How do you explain to people what the hell the LHC is for? This kind of struggle won't go away. Science keeps having to fight for a budget.

What could possibly go wrong? (1)

Delgul (515042) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868296)

The landing procedure look entirely too complex to me. It is one thing to let something crash in a controlled way, but quite another to land it in the way they desscribe. There is a host of things that could go wrong, like failing thrusters, frozen fuel lines, malfunctioning controllers, etc etc... And all that after months in space, having survived a launch and re-entry and then completely automated, with only seconds to react if something fails... I will be really,really impressed if they pull this off...

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

Zeussy (868062) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868414)

Its the same or even less complexity as an Apollo mission: Apollo Mission Steps: Launch from Earth, Do a burn for an orbital insertion Do a brake burn to get into lunar orbit Land the Lunar Module Take off from the moon, dock with the command module Do another burn to come back to earth Enter the atmosphere at the correct angle deploy parachutes Hit an ocean Curiosity Mars Mission: Launch from earth Do a burn to Mars Enter mars atmosphere Deploy parachutes Land using a lunar module esk lander. It has quite a few less steps.

NASA, you guys are supposed to be better than this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36868330)

NASA has not come up with a better way to get anything to Mars without jettisoning large amounts of space trash as the rockets go. This is unacceptable.
NASA's new goal needs to be able to create a space plane that can take off and land like a plane and make it to mars without dropping any metal trash.
(I'm not talking as anyone who cares about the environment either, I am talking as someone who sees space trash as a waste of taxpayer money), and don't take my point of view the wrong way. I want to see a human land on Mars, but unfortunately we don't have a boogey-man like Russia in the Cold War to get the motivation to make it happen. Technology funding has taken the backseat to social programs.(Grrrr)

The landing consists of dropping hacked together buggy with slow moving robot arms from a parachute...essentially drawing from late 1700s technology (hot air balloons).
Perhaps ruggedizing the systems and using space guns would be the better approach seeing as humans aren't in the payload.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_gun [wikipedia.org]

Back to the drawing board, please.

Re:NASA, you guys are supposed to be better than t (1)

tragedy (27079) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868510)

Mars has a very thin atmosphere. It's nearly a vacuum. To generate enough lift to be worth anything, the wings for any spaceplane would have to be enormous. Atmospheric braking can work at high speeds, but once it slows down, there isn't enough drag for a parachute to slow it down to a survivable speed. If a parachute won't work, wings won't either unless they can make some sort of incredible high speed horizontal landing on very flat ground.

With the technology currently available, they seem to have made the best choices they can. Dumping parts all over the place may not appeal to you, but it's the best way to have, for example, a heat shield for atmospheric braking that you don't have to spend fuel on lowering gently to the ground afterwards. The lowering mechanism, where the rover is lowered from the hovering section is the oddest seeming part of the whole thing. I'm not sure if it's meant to lower the rover gently because the thrusters wouldn't be able to make a gentle landing, or if it's simply meant to keep the thruster section clear of the rover. If it's the former, then I suppose it makes sense. If it's the latter, then I think it would be a better idea to have the rover land with the thruster section attached, then have it detach and fly away. Then again, maybe they're worried about high speed grains of dust and rock kicked up by the thrusters. In any case, I'm not sure that anyone here criticizing the design actually has a better idea. I mean, you could imagine some sort of Voltron style rover that assembles itself from multiple independent pieces that land via airbag, for example, but it wouldn't exactly be less complicated.

Any videos of tests on Earth? (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868480)

I would love to see the landing parts.

Re:Any videos of tests on Earth? (2)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868756)

Here's the only physical test I found: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YasCQRAWRwU [youtube.com]

Earth's atmosphere is entirely different. If you tried using the same scale, the same thrusters, and the same weight, the entire thing would crash. I'm sure there were separate tests of the individual steps, using dummy loads, but I can't find any videos of them.

Whooshing sound? (2)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868508)

I thought there was no sound in the vacuum of space.

But then maybe all that manmade global warming New Scientist likes to report is causing air molecules in our atmosphere to heat up and expand into the other reaches of space, causing all that whooshing noise as the mars lander speeds by the camera.

Or maybe they consulted with George Lucas before making the video...

covered in dust kicked up from the lander (1)

funkboy (71672) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868634)

The Apollo astronauts commented that the mission's lander kicked up a tremendous amount of dust from the lunar surface; so much so that the blast radius was visible from the command module in orbit.

Judging from the video, there seems to be a significant risk of:

  - bits of Curiosity getting fried by the descent engines

  - the lander covering Curiosity with a massive amount of dust

Now, given that there are massive duststorms on Mars anyway, the team has hopefully prepared the rover to deal with being absolutely covered with martian dust, but it seems a shame to me to have to start the mission off that way as a result of the landing technique.

Perhaps they could test it in the worst part of the sub-Saharan Harmattan [wikipedia.org] season?

Inappropriate media (1)

DrNoNo (976214) | more than 3 years ago | (#36868676)

Isn't there a write up somewhere? Wouldn't it be better to link to a write up? I don't want to spend 4m19s watching some dumb video with sound in space and fancy graphics. Spoken narrative is too slow. A write up and a diagram or 2 is enough to convey principles, which is what interests me.
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