[meteorite-list] Mars Rovers Might Get Further Lifeline

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Wed Jul 7 20:24:14 2004
Message-ID: <200407080024.RAA05165_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Rovers might get further lifeline
By Paul Rincon
BBC News
July 7, 2004

Negotiations are underway to further extend the missions of the US space
agency's Mars Exploration Rovers.

The rover team wants the robots to keep on with their science operations
for longer than the 250 Martian days (or sols) they are expected to work.

Representatives from the team are making the science case to Nasa
officials in order to secure funding for the mission beyond September.

The robotic explorers were originally due to work for just 90 Martian days.

We've literally and figuratively just scratched the surface of the
Columbia Hills and we're about halfway through the Endurance mission
Dr Ray Arvidson, Nasa

In April, scientists and engineers based at Nasa's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory (JPL) announced that this period would be extended to 250
sols due to the robots' better than expected performance in Mars' harsh

BBC News Online understands that rover project manager Jim Erickson and
JPL's director of Solar System exploration, Firouz Naderi, are in talks
with Nasa's associate administrator, Ed Weiler, to extend the mission
still further.

Dr Ray Arvidson, deputy principal investigator for the rover science
payload, explained there might be significant discoveries waiting to be
made on the planet.

"We've literally and figuratively just scratched the surface of the
Columbia Hills and we're about halfway through the Endurance mission,"
he said.

Convincing arguments

Dr Arvidson said July was the last full month the rover team would be
based at JPL. After that, mission scientists will use teleconferencing
and distributed processing of data to carry the mission forward.

This would also help to make the mission more cost-effective, said Dr
Arvidson: "[Money] is a huge factor. We have to minimise the costs as
much as possible."

Erickson and Naderi will also have to prove that the rovers are healthy
enough to carry on past September.

Dr Arvidson said both Opportunity and Spirit were in excellent shape,
although the time available for rover operations had been gradually

This is largely due to the northern movement of the Sun as viewed from
Mars in the lead-up to winter on the planet.

This means days are shorter for the rovers and the Sun less intense,
limiting the energy available through their solar panels to charge

The steady accumulation of dust on the rovers' solar panels will
eventually cut the power that can be drawn from the Sun. But this was
not currently proving a significant hindrance to the mission, Dr
Arvidson said.

In about 30 sols' time, scientists will position the rovers' solar
panels in order to soak up as much of the Sun's energy as possible to
help push the vehicles through the Martian winter.

Spirit will be placed in a "deep-sleep" mode during the night, which
involves shutting down all electronics and relying on solar power to
wake the rovers up. Opportunity has already been in this mode due to a
faulty heater that was sapping power.

"We're not going to do a lot but stay alive and occasionally do some
remote-sensing of the sky and surface. We'll become a long-term weather
station," said Dr Arvidson.

The rovers might begin driving again by early 2005, when conditions
improve on the planet.

If Nasa headquarters agrees to an extension, it is possible the rovers
could still be roving well past their first anniversary on the Red Planet.
Received on Wed 07 Jul 2004 08:24:10 PM PDT

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