Thu, August 23, 2012
Technology > Science > U.S. Mars Rover Curiosity Lands

Mars rover Curiosity to undergo "brain transplant"

2012-08-11 01:03:54 GMT2012-08-11 09:03:54(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) -- NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars will undergo a "brain transplant" over the weekend with a software upgrade to prepare for new tasks ahead, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, announced on Friday.

The upgrade will take place as part of a series of steps on Aug.10-13 to prepare the rover for its future tasks such as driving and using its strong robotic arm.

A new version of software would be installed in both of the rover's redundant main computers, according to JPL.

JPL said the new software for Mars surface operations was uploaded to the rover's memory during the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft's flight from Earth last November.

"We designed the mission from the start to be able to upgrade the software as needed for different phases of the mission," said Ben Cichy, chief software engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory mission at JPL

"The flight software version Curiosity currently is using was really focused on landing the vehicle. It includes many capabilities we just don't need any more. "

"It gives us basic capabilities for operating the rover on the surface, but we have planned all along to switch over after landing to a version of flight software that is really optimized for surface operations," Cichy explained.

Image processing to check for obstacles is the key for the new software, which allows for longer drives by giving the rover more autonomy to identify and avoid potential hazards and drive along a safe path the rover identifies for itself, according to the JPL.

Other new capabilities will facilitate the use of tools at the end of the rover's robotic arm.

While Curiosity is completing the software transition, the mission's science team is continuing to analyze images the rover has taken of its surroundings inside Gale Crater, JPL said.

JPL scientists are discussing which features in the scene to investigate after a few weeks of initial checkouts and observations to assess equipment on the rover and characteristics of the landing site.

Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on NASA's Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, according to JPL.

Some of the tools, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking rocks' elemental composition from a distance, are the first of their kind on Mars.

Curiosity will also use a drill and scoop, which are located at the end of its robotic arm, to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into the rover's analytical laboratory instruments in an attempt to find out signs of life whether in the past or at present.

The Gale Crater landing site places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater's interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history, according to JPL.

The software upgrade process is expected to last roughly four days, During this time, all other activities, including science, will temporarily be put on hold, JPL said.

The reason for this is to avoid any kind of interference, and to allow enough time for engineers to finish the transfer and verify that everything is functioning according to plan.

Once that is complete, engineers and scientists will continue checking Curiosity's instruments and gathering early science observations, according to JPL.

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