Jennifer Trosper, NASA:
Mars Rover Curiosity Arm Tests Nearly Complete
September 17, 2012
NASA's Mars Curiosity
team has almost finished robotic arm tests in preparation for the rover
to touch and examine its first Martian rock.
image from NASA's Curiosity rover shows the open inlet where powered
rock and soil samples will be funneled down for analysis. Image credit:
Tests with the 7-foot (2.1-meter) arm have allowed the mission team to
gain confidence in the arm's precise maneuvering in Martian temperature
and gravity conditions. During these activities, Curiosity has remained
at a site it reached by its most recent drive on Sept. 5. The team will
resume driving the rover this week and use its cameras to seek the first
rock to touch with instruments on the arm.
"We're about to drive some more and try to find the right rock to begin
doing contact science with the arm," said Jennifer Trosper, Curiosity
mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
image shows the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on NASA's Curiosity rover,
with the Martian landscape in the background. Image credit:
Two science instruments -- a camera called Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI)
that can take close-up, color images and a tool called Alpha Particle
X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) that determines the elemental composition of a
target rock -- have passed preparatory tests at the rover's current
location. The instruments are mounted on a turret at the end of the arm
and can be placed in contact with target rocks.
Curiosity's Canadian-made APXS had taken atmospheric readings earlier,
but its first use on a solid target on Mars was this week on a
calibration target brought from Earth. X-ray detectors work best cold,
but even the daytime APXS tests produced clean data for identifying
elements in the target.
"The spectrum peaks are so narrow, we're getting excellent resolution,
just as good as we saw in tests on Earth under ideal conditions," said
APXS principal investigator Ralf Gellert of the University of Guelph, in
Ontario, Canada. "The good news is that we can now make high-resolution
measurements even at high noon to support quick decisions about whether
a sample is worthwhile for further investigations."
The adjustable-focus MAHLI camera this week has produced sharp images of
objects near and far.
"Honestly, seeing those images with Curiosity's wheels in the foreground
and Mount Sharp in the background simply makes me cry," said MAHLI
principal investigator Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems in San
Diego. "I know we're just getting started, but it's already been an
is also aiding evaluation of the arm's ability to position its tools and
instruments. Curiosity moved the arm to predetermined "teach points" on
Sept. 11, including points above each of three inlet ports where it will
later drop samples of soil and powdered rock into analytical instruments
inside the rover. Images from the MAHLI camera confirmed the placements.
Photos taken before and after opening the inlet cover for the chemistry
and mineralogy (CheMin) analytical instrument also confirmed good
operation of the cover.
"Seeing that inlet cover open heightens our anticipation of getting the
first solid sample into CheMin in the coming weeks," said CheMin
principal investigator David Blake of NASA's Ames Research Center in
Moffett Field, Calif.
A test last week that checked X-rays passing through an empty sample
cell in CheMin worked well. It confirmed the instrument beneath the
inlet opening is ready to start analyzing soil and rock samples.
Curiosity is five weeks into a 2-year prime mission on Mars. It will use
10 science instruments to assess whether the selected field site inside
Gale Crater has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for