He Curiosity is the largest and most capable rover ever sent to Mars. It has more than two meters in length, a multitude of cameras and various scientific tools that have been chemically analyzing Mars for more than a decade.
The launch of this space exploration vehicle took place on November 26, 201. It would take a year to reach the red planet and land on “Gale Crater”. He had a clear mission, to answer the question: Did Mars ever have the right environmental conditions to support tiny life forms called microbes?
Indeed, through its dozens of tools, including spectrometers, dust collectors, environmental sensors or its famous robotic arm, it found chemical and mineral evidence of habitable environments in the past on Mars.
Among its recent milestones, we already told you how Curiosity discovered a beach on Mars last January or the photo of the most beautiful sunrise on the red planet taken to date
However, since 2016, the condition of its wheels, its mechanical arm and its out-of-date software could jeopardize its progress. Years of travel in constantly eroding weather were deteriorating the mission’s capabilities.
The update includes 180 changes, which required the team to pause Curioisity’s photography and science operations between April 3 and April 7. Four days in which the mobile laboratory had to postpone its explorations.
Today, finally, the renewed operating system and its 51 files will finally be able to allow this Rover to drive faster, minimize the cost of its wheels and according to NASA “think while driving”and thus avoid rocks or sand traps.
Until now, the vehicle had to brake to segment and map the terrain what was in front of me What used to be long waits of minutes now become seconds, and therefore this is a significant change that, however, still leaves it far from its peer: The Perseverance.
“Curiosity won’t drive as fast as Perseverance, but instead of stopping for a full minute after a drive segment, we’ll stop for just a moment or two.”explained Jonathan Denison of JPL, head of the engineering operations team.
“Spending less time idling between driving segments also means we use less energy each day. And even though we are almost 11 years old, we are still implementing new ideas to use more of our available energy for scientific activities.”Denison has declared.
An upgrade in progress since 2016, to 256 Kbps maximum speed.
But, why has this update taken so long? In addition to the problems related to the rapid advance in technology (it is not so easy to send vehicles to another planet than to get a new Windows), it is necessary to protect the chips so that they can travel through space and that reduces its power.
Specific, the Curiosity has a 200 MHz RAD750 PowerPC microprocessora radiation-resistant version of the chip found in the colorful 1998 iMac G3s. They may not look very powerful, but they still work after a decade and a trip through space.
The chips are backed by two gigabytes of flash memory, 256 megabytes of random access memory, and 256 kilobytes of programmable read-only memoryand they have worked perfectly for all these years.
Curiosity’s wheels began to wear out in 2013
The aluminum wheels already started showing signs of wear in 2013 due to sharp rocks eroding the treads. To address this problem, engineers have devised an algorithm that adjusts the rover’s speed based on the rocks it’s passing to improve traction and reduce tire wear.
In addition, the new software features two new mobility commands that allow you to reduce the amount of maneuvering you need to do while driving in an arc toward a specific waypoint, reducing inherent wear and tear on steering.
This update also makes it easier to upload software patches and will help engineers plan robotic arm movements more efficiently and with greater precision.
Although the implementation of any major software update always brings a bit of fear and uncertainty, the team is relieved to see that it works as designed and that as soon as the update was finished, the vehicle resumed its tasks.
An interactive experience aboard Curiosity
If you like follow in the footsteps of Curiosity you can access the NASA website and have an interactive vehicle experience. The Rover takes pictures of Mars daily and reproduces them on the website.
In addition, there you will be able to access the scientists’ blog in which they regularly share the discoveries, status and progress of the mission on Mars, photographing and analyzing the terrain.
Of course, you will find the complete timeline of this Rover since its launch more than a decade ago and of all the discoveries and problems that he has had to face in his journey through the red planet.