Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

New Curiosity Rover Landing Target May Save Months Travel to Prime Destination

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the behold-the-power-of-technology dept.

Mars 64

coondoggie writes with an update on the Mars Science Laboratory. From the article: "Even as it hurtles towards an August 5 rendezvous with the red planet, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is being fine-tuned for a more precise landing and better operations once it reaches its destination. NASA today gave a status report for the MSL which was launched November 2011, and is still over 17.5 million kilometers away from Mars. Of major interest today was the fact NASA said it has narrowed landing target for the Mars rover, Curiosity letting it touch down closer to its ultimate destination for science operations, but also closer to the foot of a mountain slope that poses a landing hazard, the agency said." From NASA: "The larger ellipse, 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) by 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) was already smaller than the landing target area for any previous Mars mission, due to this mission's techniques for improved landing precision. Continuing analysis after the Nov. 26, 2011, launch resulted in confidence in landing within an even smaller area [handy diagram], about 12 miles by 4 miles (20 by 7 kilometers). Using the smaller ellipse, the Mars Science Laboratory Project also moved the center of the target closer to the mountain, which holds geological layers that are the prime destination for the rover. ... 'We're trimming the distance we'll have to drive after landing by almost half,' said Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory project manager ... 'That could get us to the mountain months earlier.'"

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

It will get you there way earlier.... (4, Funny)

wbr1 (2538558) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290413)

...if you smash land into the damn thing.
Just remember to convert your units correctly! [wikipedia.org]

Re:It will get you there way earlier.... (2)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290663)

All calculations were done in dog-years, so they're really not saving that much time.

Re:It will get you there way earlier.... (1)

sFurbo (1361249) | more than 2 years ago | (#40293055)

Lithobreaking is an accepted strategy for landing probes. Preferably not too heavy or fragile probes, though.

Re:It will get you there way earlier.... (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#40294605)

...if you smash land into the damn thing.

Actually, that's what they're going to do! Seriously! They're not crashing the rover, but they're crashing the lander. The lander is a flying crane that will lower the rover by cable, fly off, and crash somewhere else on Mars.

I'm surprised that nobody's submitted a story I saw on Google News this morning about possible teflon contamination of samples, and how they plan on remediating it.

Months travel? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40290485)

They do?

Why?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40290507)

Why risk it?

Its not like curiosity will be doing anything that is time sensitive. Who cares if you arrive at the site a few months early?
It definitely is not worth the risk of destroying the lander.

Re:Why?? (5, Informative)

profplump (309017) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290561)

Because they completed an engineering analysis and determined that the reduced operational costs and increased science opportunities were balanced by the increased risk. Heck, for all you know there is no significant increase in the risk, and the old landing area selection was based on unnecessarily conservative estimates of the landing precision, so landing further away would be purely detrimental.

Re:Why?? Cost of change (2)

j-stroy (640921) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290569)

Or the on the ground survey's that will be missed by the rover not traversing them. Even the Hubble examination of seemingly empty sky [wikipedia.org] produced incredible results.

Re:Why?? Cost of change (1)

tbonefrog (739501) | more than 2 years ago | (#40291753)

Right on.

In this case they are directing the thing to crawl around in the least likely area to find life. There are lots of people who want to be able to say 'we looked and didn't find any current life' so they can proceed to endanger any life in the (more likely) places we never looked in, with impunity, for the value of the huge contracts, the dead heroes, and the retro approach: blast everything that goes to Mars from the surface of the Earth (such 20th century thinking!) , instead of learning to build ion-drive spaceships on the Moon and launch them with rail guns from there.

Re:Why?? Cost of change (0)

ThePeices (635180) | more than 2 years ago | (#40292023)

Umm, you still have to blast an object from Earth to the moon, you might as well just continue onto Mars and save the hassle and expense.

Re:Why?? Cost of change (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40293159)

You are missing the point. The moon has the raw materials for making fuel and space ships, and we could even grow food up there. The only thing that has to be blasted off Earth is the relatively light crew. This isn't your grandfather's space age. The scale of human missions to Mars or wherever makes this approach cost-effective.

Re:Why?? Cost of change (1)

progician (2451300) | more than 2 years ago | (#40294343)

That's true, but it takes a long time and a lot of money to build up an infrastructure like this on the Moon or on orbit. Building living compartments, science labs, factories, rail guns on the Moon probably will take decades up to a hundred years or so, given that we start right now with this goal in mind.

So far no nation can put enough resources in to space exploration let alone space colonization. Hopefully it will change soon...

Re:Why?? (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290749)

Why risk it?

Its not like curiosity will be doing anything that is time sensitive. Who cares if you arrive at the site a few months early?
It definitely is not worth the risk of destroying the lander.

If the lander fails before it gets to the primary target, you have a partially or even mostly failed mission. MSL will be a long way from Earth, and many things can happen, so, yes, there is pressure to get there sooner.

Re:Why?? (1)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290767)

Curiosity is the biggest Hail Mary play since Cassini/Huygens. It is already going to take either divine intervention or help from the Martians to get that thing down right side up and in one piece. So this doesn't sound like too big a risk, considering everything else that they've had to account for.

Why not a crawler? (2)

k(wi)r(kipedia) (2648849) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290923)

Is a 6-wheeled rover really the most efficient shape for a land vehicle on rough terrain? I've seen videos of robots that look like snakes or caterpillars that can land in whatever direction, landing first as a ball before unwinding in the proper orientation. The "caterpillar" will be modular, able to combine and recombine like a Japanese cartoon robot. Should a module be stuck, the mission operator will have the option of abandoning the module so the rest of the robot can proceed with rest of the misson.

A transforming robot would also be nice, but that's too much sci-fi already.

Re:Why not a crawler? (4, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40292069)

Is a 6-wheeled rover really the most efficient shape for a land vehicle on rough terrain? I've seen videos of robots that look like snakes or caterpillars that can land in whatever direction, landing first as a ball before unwinding in the proper orientation.

Snakes have a problem with the amount of payload they can carry, and positioning that payload efficiently in the body.
Its not enough to get an instrument to the surface, it has to be deployed in an orientation where it can actually function, transmit data, gain access to rocks and surfaces, and be protected from sand and other foreign material.

You've seen videos of experimental toys, none of which survived the riggers of testing, or carried any significant payload, let alone a power plant, and a computer system capable of autonomous operation.

I think the six wheel lander offers the best mix of travel capability with payload capacity. I think I trust the guys who actually build and test these things over those who watch watch videos.

Re:Why not a crawler? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40294361)

none of which survived the rigor of testing

Just a friendly fix.

Re:Why not a crawler? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40295239)

Wheels are one of the most efficient forms of locomotion. Movement by slither and undulation is very inefficient; at least as man makes them into mechanical devices. As others pointed out, they also suck for cargo and distribution.

For the given terrain types, ideally, they would be using tracks but tracks require more weight, energy and as such, are generally frowned upon when low energy requirements exist. The second runner up, therefore, classically goes to six wheels with relatively large tires. This configuration is picked as its an intersection of weight, traction, efficiency, and power.

Believe it or not, NASA did tons of research before they settled on six wheel designs.

Re:Why not a crawler? (1)

CubicleView (910143) | more than 2 years ago | (#40295667)

Aside from stability issues others have mentioned, a snake large enough to house all the stuff in the rover would be very well, large I think.
link chosen from google image search becasue you can get an idea of scale from the people standing beside the rover. http://news.cnet.com/8301-19514_3-20013071-239.html [cnet.com]
Combining and recombining like a Japanese cartoon robot works best in cartoons. Sand and other realities would make it difficult to execute well on Mars

Late Breaking News: Medical Emergency! (2)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290931)

K'Breel, Speaker for the Council, has been rushed to an undisclosed medical facility following deployment of a cyberweapon from the blue world.

A redacted version of the cyberweapon has been reproduced below for public analysis:

It is already going to take either divine intervention or h3lp from the M@rtians to get that thing down right side up and in one piece.

Upon reading the phrase "h3lp from the M@rtians", K'Breel, Speaker for the Council, immediately collapsed into fits of laughter and promptly laughed his gelsacs off.

When a junior reporter asked for comment on the Speaker's Condition, K'Breel, still wracked with peals of laughter, snickered "I once had a podmate who lost his olfactory organ... How did he smell? AWFUL!"

Citizens are reminded in this time of heightened concern to be aware of security risks associated with transmissions from the blue world, but are reassured that they do grow back.

Re:Late Breaking News: Medical Emergency! (2)

tbird81 (946205) | more than 2 years ago | (#40291083)

A redacted version of the cyberweapon has been reproduced below for public analysis:

It is already going to take either divine intervention or h3lp from the M@rtians to get that thing down right side up and in one piece.

Upon reading the phrase "h3lp from the M@rtians", K'Breel, Speaker for the Council, immediately collapsed into fits of laughter and promptly laughed his gelsacs off.

I always knew someone was listening in my times of trouble.

Re:Why?? (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40292021)

Curiosity is the biggest Hail Mary play since Cassini/Huygens. It is already going to take either divine intervention or help from the Martians to get that thing down right side up and in one piece.

Oh, I don't know, after several successful landers, each employing a different strategy for descent and landing, it seems well within the limits of what we know to be possible. Seems like lots of the landers employed tricky and new methods.

Looking at the new target area, compared to the old, it seems very little more risky that what was previously planned.

Re:Why?? (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#40292271)

Curiosity is the biggest Hail Mary play since Cassini/Huygens. It is already going to take either divine intervention or help from the Martians to get that thing down right side up and in one piece. So this doesn't sound like too big a risk, considering everything else that they've had to account for.

Cassini/Huygens presumably being helped by the Sirens of Titan.

Re:Why?? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 2 years ago | (#40292983)

It is already going to take either divine intervention or help from the Martians to get that thing down right side up and in one piece.

Unless the Martians are felines, in which case they are probably doomed.

Re:Why?? (3, Insightful)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290941)

Presumably there is risk associated with distance travelled and time spent travelling too.

Ellipse? (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290513)

Ellipse? I love how the world is really Gaussian.

Re:Ellipse? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40290857)

Ellipse... impact trench... same thing here. It's an ellipse because the thing is coming down at an angle over the surface, not straight down -- which might produce more of a circle.

Same thing for the previous landers (bouncers?) which bounced along to slowly bleed off speed.

Re:Ellipse? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#40291803)

which might produce more of a circle.

Circular crater if they didn't do their math right.

Wait was that miles or kilometers? (0)

stevegee58 (1179505) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290563)

Oops too late.

Disappointed... (2)

Covalent (1001277) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290601)

I thought they had somehow found a way to get to Mars months sooner.

Imagine my disappointment upon learning that they are landing closer and so just ended up with a shorter drive. (end sarcasm)

In all seriousness, this rover has some amazing hardware that has the best chance yet of finding microbial life on Mars.

Re:Disappointed... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40290637)

...if it exists. Otherwise they all have the same chance: zero.

Re:Disappointed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40291333)

They always have some chance of finding microbial life that they inadvertently brought there with them.

Re:Disappointed... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40291251)

"In all seriousness, this rover has some amazing hardware that has the best chance yet of finding microbial life on Mars."

It's funny that you should say that, because this rover still doesn't have a simple but critical instrument for detecting microbial life: a microscope powerful enough to see microbes.

Does NASA have an explanation for why none of the rovers have had a microscope at least powerful enough to see average-sized bacteria?

More to the point, why doesn't Curiosity have one? This rover is the heaviest one yet, loaded with tons of scientific instruments. Why couldn't they have sacrificed some of that weight for a simple but powerful microscope?

Re:Disappointed... (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 2 years ago | (#40295137)

I think I remember hearing that Congress wouldn't open the checkbook if NASA looked for 'Signs of Life'. They're allowed to look for 'Conditions That Might or Might Not Have Been Able to Support Life in the Distant Past". Something about ultra-conservative Christians, I think.

Re:Disappointed... (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#40298087)

They're looking for evidence of life in Mars' past; carbon and such. It's doubtful (but possible) there's any there now. It would take an ultra-extreme extremophile to live on that little air or water. And with a microscope, how do you know if it's a cell or just something that looks like a cell? The rover will be doing chemistry.

I'd bet the chances of life on one of the gas giants' moons would be more likely, if there's anough tidal heating for liquid water.

Re:Disappointed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40299769)

"And with a microscope, how do you know if it's a cell or just something that looks like a cell?"

Oh, you know, you might see some motion, organisms killing or eating each other, bacteria doing what bacteria do, etc.. I'm sure there are thousands of biologists who'd have no trouble identifying real cells.

Re:Disappointed... (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#40292437)

It sounds like the usual air travel problem, where the driving and check in/out takes longer than the flight itself.

Re:Disappointed... (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#40293499)

That is true, but advances in how accurately we can land is very important for the possibility of a multi-landing mission like for example a Mars base almost certainly will be. It would not do very well to have your cargo/robots/crew/resupply mission impact on your base, or to have it land far, far away. Of course it's possible the micro-navigation - avoiding a small base in the landing area is better than the macro-navigation - hitting the landing area but the more controlled the better.

Sky Crane! (1)

poly_pusher (1004145) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290673)

I just wish we could actually watch it land... That is going to be a spectacle.

Re:Sky Crane! (4, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290761)

I was told that are plans to have the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image the landing. If anything goes wrong, this might provide the only knowledge of what failed and, if it works, the pictures should be pretty spectacular.

Re:Sky Crane! (2)

toygeek (473120) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290783)

And if it fails, the picture should be even MORE spectacular!

In all seriousness, I wish the MSL team the best. That is an amazing robot they're sending.

Re:Sky Crane! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40291311)

They'll upload 720p video from MARDI (descent imager) if the landing is successful.

And still. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40290855)

And still we have a broken economy, slowly growing civil unrest, a recession, families with not nearly enough money, people going hungry, a fucked school system, politicians railroading us all, a gigantic debt, kids going to school hungry, millions with no health care, elderly that cant afford their own bills, billions of dollars wasted on that pathetic excuse for a war in a country we dont belong in, thousands of dead people because of same said war and all of our other problems and were messing around on mars? Why we cant fix our own problems before wasting all that time, energy, resources and manpower on sending a robot to a red rock Ill never understand.

This is a collosal waste of time and they wont find shit just like cameron didnt find dick at the bottom of the ocean.

Re:And still. (3, Interesting)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | more than 2 years ago | (#40291465)

Actually, we have the world's largest economy and a populace that is by and large so affluent that *obesity* is our epidemic instead of starvation, and people think the sky is falling when they have to choose between netflix and starbucks. I'd rather see this money going to Mars science than to somebody's second SUV, and while it'd be nice to provide for the poor that money could more appropriately be taxed out of your home theater system or the like.

Re:And still. (1)

cusco (717999) | more than 2 years ago | (#40292301)

Amen.

Will Opportunity be in range to take pics? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40290897)

Will Opportunity be in range to take pics of the decent through the atmosphere? Cuz pics or it doesn't count...

Re:Will Opportunity be in range to take pics? (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#40294841)

No, but MRO should be.

Re:Will Opportunity be in range to take pics? (1)

Zaiff Urgulbunger (591514) | more than 2 years ago | (#40301755)

Want pics from both the sky-crane thing *and* from the rover. Want!

Techniques for guiding a landing on Mars? (2)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#40290971)

I am curious what specific techniques they have refined - how is navigation towards the surface of Mars performed? Is there optical tracking of visual features on the surface (ala Buzz Aldrin or a robotic pilot?) Do they navigate with respect to satellites in known locations around Mars (ala GPS), or celestial navigation? Or is it largely ballistic (based on conditions well ahead of time and predictions based on orbital mechanics, leaving little to final steering corrections?)

Re:Techniques for guiding a landing on Mars? (2)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40292217)

They do have some satellites in orbit, and a couple on the ground that they can still talk to, but I doubt they are relying on these for guidance. Certainly there is no fleet of GPS satellites circling the planet (although if we keep sending landers, that might not be a bad idea).

I think they rely on radar and optical maps produced by predecessors such as Mars Global Surveyor, (no longer working) and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to build camera and radar maps that they can use to set up landing approaches. See: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mro/multimedia/interactives/ [nasa.gov]

Their site selection is discussed on the above page, as well as a ton of images.

I suspect they are limited to what is reachable from their initial orbit. They can use radar, and optical alignment on stars to establish that first orbit. And if they get that orbit established correctly the rest is probably some huge radar pattern matching exercise.

It seems just getting to the planet is like treading the needle, and getting into a 12 by 4 mile box is astounding precision.

Re:Techniques for guiding a landing on Mars? (3, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#40292317)

Range, Doppler, and VLBI, all from Earth (and all done by the DSN). I don't believe that this mission is using Optical Navigation. No (other) Mars spacecraft participate directly in this, although of course the Mars ephemeris is dominated by data from them. It is an iterative process, where an initial trajectory is refined by course corrections and monitored more or less continuously, with the measurement tempo increasing as Mars entry gets near.

If you want to drill down into this, here [gatech.edu] is a good starting point focusing on Mars entry navigation.

Re:Techniques for guiding a landing on Mars? (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#40294591)

And, if you want to know how we know where Mars is to within 10's of meters in real time, read this [nasa.gov] .

That's impossible (3, Funny)

Trogre (513942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40291001)

Even for a computer.

conspiracy theory (0)

tbonefrog (739501) | more than 2 years ago | (#40291633)

So perhaps four or more sets of forces have pushed through this change and met no opposition;

1. Programmers want to do a few quick tweaks to the software just before landing the thing. Normally this type of thinking would be quashed by management...

2. Mission fatcats who have known for years that the thing would crash now have a scapegoat.

3. Space profiteers with a vested interest in proving robots do not work, eager to get funding for hugely expensive human missions.

4. People with a vested interest in Biblical teachings not being refuted, who may or may not inhabit the NASA bureaucracy, or who may be allied with group 3 (after humans land on Mars who is to say that any life we find didn't originate here and hitchhike along?) (P.S. I know they didn't sanitize this rover, possibly for the same reason).

From the political end this is either the Republicans setting up the current administration for a big pre-election failure, or the Administration eager to get the rover onto the mountain before election day, call it either way, there is a lot of nasty politics on both sides unfortunately. (For example: "The first shuttle disaster was caused by launching in the cold on the day of the State of the Union address, and the second may well have been caused by using a steeper-than-necessary glide slope due to Cold War-era constraints on overflying enemy territory.")

Regardless, it will be fantastic if we find fossil life in the mountain, that will throw the bible belt into a big enough tizzy. The mountain has the least atmosphere and the highest radiation, so is about the least likely place to look for living things on Mars. Landing in a deep depression, akin to the bottom of the ocean if Mars had any, gives you the highest atmospheric pressure, making landing easier, and puts you closer to whatever habitable zone Mars may have today. Presumably the higher up the side of the mountain you try to land, the less margin you have for sufficient atmospheric drag, and the closer you are to hitting something hard before you have slowed down enough.

Re:conspiracy theory (5, Funny)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40292223)

Step away from the TV.
Go out side.

Please Wait... (2)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 2 years ago | (#40291637)

[Recalculating...]

Re:Please Wait... (1)

wbr1 (2538558) | more than 2 years ago | (#40292321)

What happens when mars missions navigation systems are farmed out to the lowest bidder.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mS2Ba9gTPOo [youtube.com]

Re:Please Wait... (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#40292445)

So, no-one else got the Tom Tom GPS joke?

Re:Please Wait... (1)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#40292655)

just you. we don't drive, and when we do we know where we're going. ... i thought it was a Garmin thing, anyway.

Re:Please Wait... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40294401)

Well we know where we're goin'
But we don't know where we've been
And we know what we're knowin'
But we can't say what we've seen

Talking Heads

Re:Please Wait... (1)

cusco (717999) | more than 2 years ago | (#40293651)

I actually prefer maps. I like knowing how I got from Point A to Point G, and where I am in relation to Points F and D. A GPS will get me from here to there with no brain work, but thinking is more fun. With a GPS you only go where you're supposed to and don't run into random oddities, like the park I wandered into last night with the dozens and dozens of fireflies. Besides, sometimes being lost can be as interesting as the rest of your trip.

Oh, and get off my yard!

Re:Please Wait... (1)

jheath314 (916607) | more than 2 years ago | (#40298843)

Me too! I find navigating by GPS is an inversion of the ideal human / machine relationship, where the person does the creative thinking and the machine does all the boring labor. Turn-by-turn GPS strips away all the fun planning and exploring from driving, and leaves you with only the mindlessly mechanical task of pressing the gas and turning the wheel when prompted.

Turn off the GPS... fight the machine!

Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?