A bumpy road ahead for Curiosity: Sols 3876-3879
by Remington Free | Ops Engineer - JPL
Pasadena CA (JPL) Jun 30, 2023
Our latest assessment period over sols 3872 and 3873 was a "touch and go" plan: some contact science and other observations, followed by a drive. We performed some imaging and DRT (Dust Removal Tool) brushing on the "Madero" bedrock target, to allow for contact science using APXS.
For some of our Mastcam imaging, we also move the arm out of the way as to reduce shadow in our images. Our planned drive was more or less a success - we made it most of the way we had planned, despite driving through a small ditch. The current rocky terrain has been tricky for Curiosity, and we often have little slips in our drives, but it's all in the name of continuing to ascend Mt. Sharp!
We also imaged the "Vesini" target to get a better look at protruding veins in the bedrock. We performed ChemCam LIBS (Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer) imaging which will give us elemental compositions of the vein target. The LIBS instrument functions by producing powerful laser pulses which ablate ions on the surface of the sample and causing their decay into light-emitting plasma. The rover can make spectroscopic observations of this plasma, which through spectral analysis is what allows us to understand what elements exist within the rock.
My tactical role is on downlink assessment for the robotic arm, so this was a fun assessment day with lots of normal arm motions to enable our imaging, DRT, and contact science. Downlink assessment refers to reviewing data we receive back from the rover to understand how our planned activities actually executed on Mars. We have representatives from every major subsystem on downlink, and a TDL (Tactical Downlink Lead) who brings our findings to the uplink team.
Today our decisional pass (the data transmission we use to perform our assessments) was delayed due to the scheduled DSN station not receiving Curiosity's data, but we had enough information from previous passes to perform our assessments. Shortly after downlink, we received our data via a re-transmit from MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter). Yay for orbiters!
Stepping into the uplink side of tactical operations, I will give a summary of our planned science activities. On sol 3876, we are planning for remote (non-contact) science activities using the Mastcam which will focus on stereo documentation of nearby surface features and eroded bedrock.
On sol 3877, more remote science using Mastcam will occur; these will focus on both continued documentation of various rocks as well as tau (atmospheric optical depth) and aerosol measurements. Curiosity will also perform contact science including DRT surface brushing. On sol 3878, Curiosity will perform additional tau and aerosol measurements as well as Mastcam documentation of the DRT target and the previous ChemCam LIBS target.
On this sol, we also added some MAHLI wheel imaging into our plan - this is an engineering activity we perform at a regular cadence in order to assess the state of our wheels. This is crucial for us given the wear and tear we experience from drives due to the sharp rocks and bumpy terrain. Full MAHLI wheel imaging (FMWI) is accomplished during a drive by rotating the wheels by a fixed amount for each imaging position so we can get a good look at the entire wheel state.
Overall, this was an interesting tactical day - for both the downlink and uplink sides of the house. In my role on the robotic arm, I get to assess arm activities which enable our scientific observations, but it's great to remember that there is also plenty of science we do with our remote instruments. We're excited to continue to ascend Mt. Sharp with the eventual goal of drilling once we reach an appropriate elevation.