Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

NASA's Mars rover Spirit has uncertain future as sixth anniversary nears

Date:
January 2, 2010
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
NASA's Mars rover Spirit will mark six years of unprecedented science exploration and inspiration for the American public on Jan. 3, 2010. However, the upcoming Martian winter could end the roving career of the beloved, scrappy robot.

Spirit attempted to turn all six wheels on Sol 2126 (Saturday, Dec. 26, 2009) to extricate itself from the sand trap known as "Troy," but stopped earlier than expected because of excessive sinkage.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Mars rover Spirit will mark six years of unprecedented science exploration and inspiration for the American public on Sunday. However, the upcoming Martian winter could end the roving career of the beloved, scrappy robot.

Spirit successfully landed on the Red Planet at 8:35 p.m. PST on Jan. 3, 2004, and its twin Opportunity arrived at 9:05 p.m. Jan. 24, 2004. The rovers began missions intended to last for three months but which have lasted six Earth years, or 3.2 Mars years. During this time, Spirit has found evidence of a steamy and violent environment on ancient Mars that was quite different from the wet and acidic past documented by Opportunity, which has been operating successfully as it explores halfway around the planet.

A sand trap and balky wheels are challenges to Spirit's mobility that could prevent NASA's rover team from using a key survival strategy for the rover. The team may not be able to position the robot's solar panels to tilt toward the sun to collect power for heat to survive the severe Martian winter.

Nine months ago, Spirit's wheels broke through a crusty surface layer into loose sand hidden underneath. Efforts to escape this sand trap barely have budged the rover. The rover's inability to use all six wheels for driving has worsened the predicament. Spirit's right-front wheel quit working in 2006, and its right-rear wheel stalled a month ago. Surprisingly, the right-front wheel resumed working, though intermittently. Drives with four or five operating wheels have produced little progress toward escaping the sand trap. The latest attempts resulted in the rover sinking deeper in the soil.

"The highest priority for this mission right now is to stay mobile, if that's possible," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. He is principal investigator for the rovers.

If mobility is not possible, the next priority is to improve the rover's tilt, while Spirit is able to generate enough electricity to turn its wheels. Spirit is in the southern hemisphere of Mars, where it is autumn, and the amount of daily sunshine available for the solar-powered rover is declining. This could result in ceasing extraction activities as early as January, depending on the amount of remaining power. Spirit's tilt, nearly five degrees toward the south, is unfavorable because the winter sun crosses low in the northern sky.

Unless the tilt can be improved or luck with winds affects the gradual buildup of dust on the solar panels, the amount of sunshine available will continue to decline until May 2010. During May, or perhaps earlier, Spirit may not have enough power to remain in operation.

"At the current rate of dust accumulation, solar arrays at zero tilt would provide barely enough energy to run the survival heaters through the Mars winter solstice," said Jennifer Herman, a rover power engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The team is evaluating strategies for improving the tilt even if Spirit cannot escape the sand trap, such as trying to dig in deeper with the wheels on the north side. In February, NASA will assess Mars missions, including Spirit, for their potential science versus costs to determine how to distribute limited resources. Meanwhile, the team is planning additional research about what a stationary Spirit could accomplish as power wanes.

"Spirit could continue significant research right where it is," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, deputy principal investigator for the rovers. "We can study the interior of Mars, monitor the weather and continue examining the interesting deposits uncovered by Spirit's wheels."

A study of the planet's interior would use radio transmissions to measure wobble of the planet's axis of rotation, which is not feasible with a mobile rover. That experiment and others might provide more and different findings from a mission that has already far exceeded expectations.

"Long-term change in the spin direction could tell us about the diameter and density of the planet's core," said William Folkner of JPL. He has been developing plans for conducting this experiment with a future, stationary Mars lander. "Short-period changes could tell us whether the core is liquid or solid," he said.

In 2004, Opportunity discovered the first mineralogical evidence that Mars had liquid water. The rover recently finished a two-year investigation of a half-mile wide crater called Victoria and now is headed toward Endeavor crater, which is approximately seven miles from Victoria and nearly 14 miles across. Since landing, Opportunity has driven more than 11 miles and returned more than 132,000 images.

JPL manages the rovers for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about the rovers, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/rovers or http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "NASA's Mars rover Spirit has uncertain future as sixth anniversary nears." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 January 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091231144656.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2010, January 2). NASA's Mars rover Spirit has uncertain future as sixth anniversary nears. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091231144656.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "NASA's Mars rover Spirit has uncertain future as sixth anniversary nears." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091231144656.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

A Hoax? Cosmetics Company Wants To Brighten The Moon

A Hoax? Cosmetics Company Wants To Brighten The Moon

Newsy (Apr. 19, 2014) FOREO, a Swedish cosmetics company, says it wants to brighten the moon to lower electricity costs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station

Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) On it's second attempt this week, The Space X company launched Friday from Cape Canaveral to ferry supplies to the International Space Station. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Unmanned Falcon 9 Rocket Blasts Off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida

Unmanned Falcon 9 Rocket Blasts Off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida

Reuters - US Online Video (Apr. 18, 2014) The rocket, built and operated by Space Exploration Technologies, carries a Dragon cargo ship loaded with supplies and equipment destined for the International Space Station. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Earth's Near-Twin Found Orbiting Red Dwarf

Earth's Near-Twin Found Orbiting Red Dwarf

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) The newly-discovered planet is roughly the size of Earth and could have liquid water on its surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins