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Spirit Studies Distinctive Rock Layers With Granules And Platy Beds

Until recently, NASA's two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, could figure only one or two steps ahead in planning a path and driving on their own. New software uploaded to the rovers onboard computers now enables them to look ahead and plan a path to a spot 50 meters (164 feet) away, evading obstacles along the way. With this software, called "Field D-Star" path planner and developed at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, the rovers could find their way out of a maze. Opportunity ran the first test of its smarter autonomous driving capability on the rover's 1,014th sol, or Martian day (Nov. 30, 2006).

This overhead view shows the site of the test. The rover's software path (inside the blue box) is superimposed upon an image taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a portion of image PIA08813. Around the rover are the sands of Meridiani Planum; "Victoria Crater" is on the right. Red areas are "keep-out" zones established by human rover drivers to prevent Opportunity from getting too close to the edge of the crater. Green represents areas that would be safe to traverse based on stereo images taken by the rover's navigation cameras. The purple diamond represents Opportunity and the blue diamond the destination.

The blue line is the most efficient path to the desired destination. During this particular 10.5-meter (34-foot) drive, Opportunity's new software was still only a backseat driver, watching what happened and making plans but letting the rest of the system handle the driving. The rover still relied on the one-step-ahead system it had been using before getting the new software. Future tests will put the software directly in the driver's seat. So far, tests have been successful. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/CMU

by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (JPL) Jan 23, 2007
Spirit is healthy and continues to make progress on scientific studies of a rock exposure known as "Montalva," which is one of the lower layers of an outcrop known as "Troll." Compositional data that Spirit collected using the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer suggest the rock has high potassium content. To confirm this, scientists selected an adjacent exposure for further scrutiny.

In addition, Spirit began scientific analysis of an exposure known as "Riquelme" within the middle stratigraphic units of the "Troll" outcrop. Riquelme is composed of spherical particles that may be lapilli, which are pebble- to granule-size rocks ejected during a volcanic eruption. Spirit is also acquiring data about an upper exposure, nicknamed "Zucchelli," of thin platy beds in the outcrop using the panoramic camera and alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer.

During the week, Spirit acquired stereo panoramic camera images of the raised, circular plateau known as "Home Plate" for use in creating a digital elevation model. The navigation camera acquired movie frames in search of dust devils on the rover's 1082nd and 1084th sols, or Martian days of exploration (Jan. 18, 2007 and Jan. 20, 2007).

Science team members plan to have Spirit observe a transit of the Martian moon Phobos as it passes between the rover and the sun on sol 1083 (Jan. 19, 2007) and attempt to acquire panoramic camera images of comet McNaught at sunrise. It is possible that predawn sunlight will make the comet hard to see.

Dust levels have been returning to normal levels, with tau (a measure of how obscured the sun is when viewed through the atmosphere) dropping to 0.549 on sol 1081 and resulting in increased solar energy of 343 watt-hours. After recent dust storm activity on Mars, tau peaked at 1.136 on sol 1066 (Jan. 1, 2007), resulting in solar array energy of 276 watt-hours.

Sol-by-sol summary

Sol 1079 (Jan. 15, 2006): Spirit placed the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer on a new, offset target near Montalva, acquired miniature thermal emission spectrometer data on rock targets known as "Guillaume" and "von Neumayer," surveyed the sky and ground using the miniature thermal emission spectrometer, and spent 5 hours collecting data with the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer.

Sol 1080: The panoramic camera acquired a full-color image of Zucchelli using all 13 filters of the panoramic camera. The microscopic imager inspected "Montalva Offset." The rover swung the robotic arm out of the way to take panoramic camera images of both that target and Riquelme. Spirit acquired microscopic images of Riquelme before placing the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer on the target. The rover surveyed a rock target known as "Lazarev" using the miniature thermal emission spectrometer.

Sol 1081: Spirit acquired panoramic camera images of Home Plate and the dune field known as "El Dorado." Spirit checked the calibration target and surveyed a target known as "Maud Land" with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer. Spirit acquired data using the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer, images of the sky using the panoramic camera, and movie frames of potential dust devils using the navigation camera.

Sol 1082: Plans called for Spirit to measure atmospheric dust, survey the sky and ground with the miniature thermal emission spectromter, and acquire data on "Riquelme3" using the Moessbauer spectrometer. Plans also called for Spirit to take images of the sky for calibration purposes using the panoramic and navigation cameras; survey the sky, ground, and a rock outcrop known as "d'Unville" using the miniature thermal emission spectrometer; and take panoramic camera images of the Phobos transit.

Sol 1083: Plans called for Spirit to measure atmospheric dust opacity, acquire navigation camera and panoramic camera images of the sky for calibration purposes, and survey the sky and ground with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer. Plans also called for continued work on Riquelme3, during which Spirit was to acquire additional data about iron composition with the Moessbauer spectrometer. The rover was also to study "Zucchelli3" using the miniature thermal emission spectrometer.

Sol 1084 (Jan. 20, 2007): Plans called for Spirit to measure atmospheric dust, scan the sky and ground with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer, continue Moessbauer analysis of Riquelme3, conduct miniature thermal emission spectrometer analysis of "Zucchelli4," and acquire navigation camera frames in search of dust devils. The next morning's activities were to include panoramic camera images of a soil slip known as "Lennox" and continued miniature thermal emission spectrometer analysis of "Zucchelli5."

Odometry: As of sol 1081 (Jan. 17, 2006), Spirit's total odometry was 6,895 meters (4.28 miles).

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German HRSC Onboard Mars Express Now In Its Third Year
Paris, France (SPX) Jan 22, 2007
Exactly three years ago today, the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) onboard the Mars Express probe captured its first image data of our neighbouring planet. After more than 3800 orbits of Mars, the camera has imaged an area larger than North and South America with a resolution of between ten and twenty metres per pixel, in colour and in 3D.

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