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Special: Mars Exploration Rover Mission overview

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posted on Dec, 26 2007 @ 12:05 PM

Special: Mars Exploration Rover Mission overview

NASA's twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers, launched toward Mars on June 10 and July 7, 2003, in search of answers about the history of water on Mars. They landed on Mars January 3 and January 24 PST, 2004 (January 4 and January 25 UTC, 2004).
The Mars Exploration Rover mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet.

Primary among the mission's scientific goals is to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. The spacecraft are targeted to sites on opposite sides of Mars that appear to have been affected by liquid water in the past. The
landing sites are at Gusev CRater, a possible former lake in a giant impact crater, and Meridiani Planum, where mineral deposits (hematite) suggest Mars had a wet past.
After the airbag-protected landing craft settle onto the surface and open, the rovers rolled out to take panoramic
images. These give scientists the information they need to select promising geological targets that tell part of the story of water in Mars' past. Then, the rovers drive to those locations to perform on-site scientific

These are the primary science instruments to be carried by the rovers:

  • Panoramic Camera (Pancam): for determining the mineralogy, texture, and structure of the local terrain.

  • Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES): for identifying promising rocks and soils for closer examination and for determining the processes that formed Martian rocks. The instrument will also look skyward to provide temperature profiles of the Martian atmosphere.

  • Mössbauer Spectrometer (MB): for close-up investigations of the mineralogy of iron-bearing rocks and soils.

  • Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS): for close-up analysis of the abundances of elements that make up rocks and soils.

  • Magnets: for collecting magnetic dust particles. The Mössbauer Spectrometer and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer will analyze the particles collected and help determine the ratio of magnetic particles to
    non-magnetic particles. They will also analyze the composition of magnetic minerals in airborne dust and rocks that have been ground by the Rock Abrasion Tool.

  • Microscopic Imager (MI): for obtaining close-up, high-resolution images of rocks and soils.

  • Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT): for removing dusty and weathered rock surfaces and exposing fresh material for examination by instruments onboard.

The Panoramic Camera (Pancam)

Pancam is a high-resolution color stereo pair of CCD cameras that will be used to image the surface and sky of Mars. The cameras are located on a "camera bar" that sits on top of the mast of the rover.
The Pancam Mast Assembly (PMA) allows the cameras to rotate a full 360° to obtain a panoramic view of the Martian landscape. The camera bar itself can swing up or down through 180° of elevation. Scientists will use Pancam to scan the horizon of Mars for landforms that may indicate a past history of water. They will also use the instrument to create a map of the area where the rover lands, as well as search for interesting rocks and soils to study.
The Pancam cameras are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand (270 grams or about 9 ounces), but can generate panoramic image mosaics as large as 4,000 pixels high and 24,000 pixels around. Pancam detectors are CCDs (charge coupled devices). These devices form the image, just as film does in a film camera.


PanCam eye filter

Each "eye" of the Pancam carries a filter wheel that gives Pancam its multispectral imaging capabilities. Images taken at various wavelengths can help scientists learn more about the minerals found in Martian rocks and soils.
Blue and infrared solar filters allow the camera to image the sun. These data, along with images of the sky at a variety of wavelengths, will help to determine the orientation of the rover and will provide information about the dust in the atmosphere of Mars. The Pancam color imaging system has, by far, the best capability of any camera ever sent to the surface of another planet.

The Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES)

Mini-TES is an infrared spectrometer that can determine the mineralogy of rocks and soils from a distance by detecting their patterns of thermal radiation. All warm objects emit heat, but different objects emit heat
differently. This variation in thermal radiation can help scientists identify the minerals on Mars. Mini-TES will record the spectra of various rocks and soils. These spectra can be studied to determine the type of minerals and their abundances at selected locations. One particular goal will be to search for minerals that were formed by the action of water, such as carbonates and clays. Mini-TES will also look at the atmosphere of Mars and gather data on temperature, water vapor, and the abundance of dust.

Mini-TES weighs 2.1 kg (almost 5 lbs) and is located in the body of the rover at the bottom of the "rover neck," known as the Pancam Mast Assembly (PMA). Scanning mirrors located in the Pancam Mast Assembly act like a periscope to send light down to the instrument. This structure allows Mini-TES to see the terrain around the rover from the same vantage point as Pancam. Mini-TES looks one way, and the Pancams looks the other way. To make observations of the same location from both of the instruments, the Pancam Mast Assembly (the rover's neck) must be commanded to swivel.

The Mössbauer Spectrometer (MB)

Many of the minerals that formed rocks on Mars contain iron, and the soil is iron-rich. The Mössbauer Spectrometer is an instrument that was specially designed to study iron-bearing minerals. Because this science
instrument is so specialized, it can determine the composition and abundance of these minerals to a high level of accuracy. This ability can also help us understand the magnetic properties of surface materials.

The Mössbauer Spectrometer sensor head is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It is one of four instruments mounted on the turret at the end of the rover arm. Its electronics are housed inside the body of the
rover (in the Warm Electronics Box, or WEB). Measurements are taken by placing the instrument's sensor head directly against a rock or soil sample. One Mössbauer measurement takes about 12 hours

posted on Dec, 26 2007 @ 12:11 PM
Another fine post, my friend. Brim full of information for now and later use.

Because this is a subject near and dear to the hearts of so many of us, I'm sure this will become another great reference tool for ATS to use.

Thank you for your efforts to Deny Ignorance.

posted on Dec, 26 2007 @ 12:14 PM
Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS)

The APXS determines the elemental chemistry of rocks and soils using alpha particles and X-rays. Alpha particles are emitted during radioactive decay and X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation, like light and
microwaves. The APXS carries a small alpha particle source. The alphas are emitted and bounce back from a science target into a detector in the APXS, along with some X-rays that are excited from the target in the process. The energy distribution of the alphas and X-rays measured by the detectors is analyzed to determine elemental composition. The elemental composition of a rock describes the amounts of different chemical elements that have come together to form all of the minerals within the rock. Knowing the elemental composition of martian rocks
provides scientists with information about the formation of the planet's crust, as well as any weathering that has taken place.

As with the other instruments on the arm of the rover, the APXS sensor head is small enough to hold in your hand.
Its electronics are housed in the warm electronics box (WEB) located in the body of the rover. Most APXS measurements are taken at night and require at least 10 hours of accumulation time, although just X-ray alone will only require a few hours.

Magnet Arrays

Mars is a dusty place and some of that dust is highly magnetic. Magnetic minerals carried in dust grains may be freeze-dried remnants of the planet´s watery past. A periodic examination of these particles and their patterns of accumulation on magnets of varying strength can reveal clues about their mineralogy and the planet´s geologic history.
Each rover has three sets of magnetic targets that will collect airborne dust for analysis by the science instruments. One set of magnets will be carried by the Rock Abrasion Tool. As it grinds into Martian rocks,
scientists will have the opportunity to study the properties of dust from these outer rock surfaces.
A second set of two magnets is mounted on the front of the rover at an angle so that non-magnetic particles will tend to fall off. These magnets will be reachable for analysis by the Mössbauer and APXS instruments. A third magnet is mounted on the top of the rover deck in view of the Pancam. This magnet is strong enough to deflect the paths of wind-carried, magnetic dust.

Microscopic Imager (MI)

The Microscopic Imager is a combination of a microscope and a CCD camera that will provide information on the small-scale features of Martian rocks and soils. It will complement the findings of other science instruments by producing close-up views of surface materials. Some of those materials will be in their natural state, while others may be views of fresh surfaces exposed by the Rock Abrasion Tool.

Microscopic imaging will be used to analyze the size and shape of grains in sedimentary rocks, which is important for identifying whether water may have existed in the planet's past.
The Microscopic Imager is located on the arm of the rover. Its field of view is 1024 x 1024 pixels in size and it has a single, broad-band filter so imaging is in black and white.

Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT)

The Rock Abrasion Tool is a powerful grinder, able to create a hole 45 millimeters (about 2 inches) in diameter and 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) deep into a rock on the Martian surface.
The RAT is located on the arm of the rover and weighs less than 720 grams (about 1.6 lbs). It uses three electric motors to drive rotating grinding teeth into the surface of a rock. Two grinding wheels rotate at high speeds. These wheels also rotate around each other at a much slower speed so that the two grinding wheels sweep the entire
cutting area. The RAT is able to grind through hard volcanic rock in about two hours.

Once a fresh surface is exposed, scientists can examine the abraded area in detail using the rover's other science instruments.This means that the interior of a rock may be very different from its exterior. That difference is important to scientists as it may reveal how the rock was formed and the environmental conditions in which it was altered. A rock sitting on the surface of Mars may become covered with dust and will weather, or change in chemical composition from contact with the atmosphere.

The rovers eyes and other senses
Each rover has nine "eyes."
Six engineering cameras aid in rover navigation and three cameras perform science investigations.
Each camera has an application-specific set of optics.

  • Four Engineering Hazcams (Hazard Avoidance Cameras)
  • Two Engineering Navcams (Navigation Cameras)
  • Two Science Pancams (Panoramic Cameras)
  • One Science Microscopic Imager

Hazard Avoidance Cameras
Mounted on the lower portion of the front and rear of the rover, these black-and-white cameras use visible light to capture three-dimensional (3-D) imagery. This imagery safeguards against the rover getting lost or
inadvertently crashing into unexpected obstacles, and works in tandem with software that allows the rover make its own safety choices and to "think on its own."
The cameras each have a wide field of view of about 120 degrees. The rover uses pairs of Hazcam images to map out the shape of the terrain as far as 3 meters (10 feet) in front of it, in a "wedge" shape that is over 4 meters wide at the farthest distance. It needs to see far to either side because unlike human eyes, the Hazcam cameras cannot move independently; they¹re mounted directly to the rover body.

Navigation Cameras
Mounted on the mast (the rover "neck and head), these black-and-white cameras use visible light to gather panoramic, three-dimensional (3D) imagery. The Navcam is a stereo pair of cameras, each with a 45-degree field of view to support ground navigation planning by scientists and engineers. They work in cooperation with the Hazcams by providing a complementary view of the terrain.

Calibration Targets

Mars rovers links

Spirit pan cam
Spirit nav cam
Spirit micro imager
Spirit forward hazcam
Spirit rear hazcam
Spirit public info release

Opportunity pan cam
Opportunity nav cam
Opportunity micro imager
Opportunity forward hazcam
Opportunity rear hazcam
Opportunity public info release

[edit on 26/12/2007 by internos]

posted on Dec, 27 2007 @ 12:55 AM
Spririt last traverse map (Sol 1396)
Opportunity last traverse map (Sol 1382)

Spririt traverse map Archive
Opportunity traverse map Archive

Multimedia: Spirit

  • Flying Over Spirit's Work Site
  • Three Years on Mars: Spirit's Story
  • Rover Road Trip Slideshow
  • Two Years on Mars
  • Special-Effects Spirit on Flank of "Husband Hill"
  • Aerial View of Spirit's Journey
  • Spirit on Mars
  • Driving Uphill Backwards
  • 90 Sols in 90 Seconds
  • Spirit's Trek to Bonneville
  • Computer Animation of Spirit's Landing # 1
  • Computer Animation of Spirit's Landing # 2
  • 3-D Perspective of Adirondack
  • Spirit Takes a Sunday Drive

Multimedia: Opportunity

  • Opportunity Battle Severe Dust Storm
  • Opportunity Poised to Enter Victoria Crater
  • Flying Over Opportunity's Work Site
  • Three Years on Mars - Opportunity's Story
  • An Opportunity to Study Mars
  • Animated Elevation Model of Victoria Crater
  • Rover Road Trip Slideshow
  • Two Years on Mars
  • Erebus Rim
  • Opportunity Leaving Martian Sand Trap
  • Opportunity on Mars
  • Entering Endurance Crater
  • 90 Sols in 90 Seconds
  • Video Presentation of Rock Outcrop
  • Computer Simulation of Autonomous Navigation

Animations: rovers

  • Rover Navigation 101: Autonomous Rover Navigation
  • Rover Mission to Mars Animation
  • Rover Launch and Cruise
  • MER Entry, Descent and Landing on Mars
  • Exploring the Martian Surface

From NASA webcast archive:
Roving on the Red Planet (JPL RealVideo)

Prelaunch Briefing (JPL RealVideo)

Mission Briefing (JPL RealVideo)

Science briefing (JPL RealVideo)

Video: Engineering

Testing Spirit on Five Wheels in Reverse
This movie shows a model of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit being tested for performance on five wheels at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Spirit's right front wheel, now operating at six times its design life, has been showing signs of age, so rover planners had to come up with a new approach to driving.
This particular test shows rover engineers driving a rover model backward on five wheels. On July 15, 2004, Spirit successfully rolled across the surface of Mars in this new, backward orientation.


Testing Spirit on Five Wheels Moving Forward


Testing Spirit on Five Wheels in Reverse - 2


Rover Rehearses Roll-Off at JPL
Footage from the JPL In-Situ Instruments Laboratory, or "testbed," shows engineers rehearsing a crucial maneuver called egress in which the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit rolls off its lander platform and touches martian soil.
Engineers at JPL used a test rover to perform this maneuver as if they were at the rover's landing site, Gusev Crater on Mars. Spirit successfully completed its roll-off early Thursday morning.


How to Land Softly on a Hard Planet
Just one of the many problems in landing on another planet, after it's been determined where to land and the method to get there, is landing safely. For NASA'a Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a safe landing is "the name of the
game," as engineers work to prepare two rovers for the journey to Mars.


Press Release Images

All Raw Images


3-D Images

Special-Effects Images

Mars Artwork
Landing Sites

posted on Jan, 2 2008 @ 03:24 PM
Star and a flag my friend! What a perfect thread for referencing or just looking to get ones-self familiar with the many instruments used. Lets just hope the equipment doesnt get blown away by any meteors impacting or even just passing by!
Hope this New Years treats you well Michele. Keep up the good work!


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