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Mars Space The Almighty Buck United States Science

Mars Rovers Get Extra 18 Months 205

Posted by timothy
from the unhappy-parole-board dept.
iamlucky13 writes "NASA has stated in the latest mission press release that funding for an additional 18 months of exploration has been approved. The rovers have breezed through 14 months of operation so far, and the money will cover expenses through September of 2006. The rovers are still operating well, and recently both experienced dramatic power boosts from their solar cells. They are no longer like new, however. Opportunity has recently experienced data loss from one of its spectrometers, while Spirit has a smudged camera lens, a heavily used rock abrasion tool, and has previously struggled with intermittent steering issues."
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Mars Rovers Get Extra 18 Months

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  • by Frans Faase (648933) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:38AM (#12152812) Homepage
    To improve lubrication the rovers have been driving backwards a lot of times lately. I remember they started doing this when one of the front wheels of the Spirit rover started to show more friction. After driving in reverse the friction became less.
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:41AM (#12152833) Homepage Journal
    What, are they worried about something sneaking up on it from behind?

    If a wheel develops a problem during the life of the rover it may be necessesary to drive it backwards.

    Also, these robots, like many others, spent a lot of their time getting too close to hazards and having to reverse away, so being able to see behind you is pretty important.

    And another thing ... a good way to measure how far you have gone is to take a picture of your tracks. This makes it easy to integrate your movements and calculate your new position

  • by amightywind (691887) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @09:16AM (#12153037) Journal

    Yes, but tell me, when is the next time we'll have a probe that far out in say, oh, the next 20-30 years??

    A lot sooner than you think. [jhuapl.edu] The Pluto probe will be launched by a souped up Atlas V (Model 551). That with a Jupiter flyby will have the probe screaming into the outer Solar system in a few years. It will be wandering the Kuiper belt like the Voyagers in 2020.

  • by UrgleHoth (50415) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @09:34AM (#12153179) Homepage
    Frankly, Voyager is useless now

    Useless? [nasa.gov]

    "For the past two years or so, Voyager 1 has detected phenomena unlike any encountered before in all its years of exploration. These observations and what they may infer about the approach to the termination shock have been the subject of on-going scientific debates. While some of the scientist believed that the passage past the termination shock had already begun, some of the phenomena observed were not what would have been expected. So the debate continues while even more data are being returned and analyzed."

  • by bleckywelcky (518520) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @09:42AM (#12153223)
    I have some news for you: the Kuiper belt extends from about 30 AU to 50 AU. Voyager is currently nearing 100 AU. Unless you're talking about an EP engine probe that will accelerate through 40 AU or more, then you'll probably need to double the time it takes to get to 50 AU to determine how long it will take to 100 AU.
  • by gabe824 (772563) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @10:27AM (#12153715)
    Problem is NASA landed them on opposite sides of the planet.
  • Re:Well.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rei (128717) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @12:26PM (#12155289) Homepage
    Incorrect [mit.edu]. It's not an arbitrary distinction whatsoever. The region where the solar wind drops below the speed of sound is called the "termination shock". Just like how on an aircraft, differences between supersonic and subsonic regions of flow create strong turbulent artifacts, so will happen with the solar wind (which is charged, meaning that it produces electromagnetic radiation when its path is changed). More significantly, at the heliopause, another issue arises: charge. The heliopause is where the solar wind balances out the pressure of the interstellar medium. Do the charged particles collect there, and if so, how densely? This could have profound effects for any kupier belt (or beyond) missions, as well as our models of solar system formation. Heck, we don't even know how far out the termination shock and heliopause are (and they're not in constant locations, as the sun is moving with respect to the local interstellar medium; the shape is something like a comet). Despite what we don't know about it, we do know this: the heliosphere is the source of the most powerful radio waves in our solar system - more than 10 trillion watts. By the way - it was Voyager who first detected these emissions.

    After the heliopause comes the heliosheath, which has its own set of properties which are largely unknown. It's the area where the solar-influenced material blends into the interstellar medium (and getting any data on the interstellar medium would be a great boon for astronomy)
  • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @01:01PM (#12155834) Homepage
    only way to get it out there in a reasonable amount of time is nuclear explosions against a pusher plate

    Hardly :P First off, the Orion concept has been largely outmodded by the Medusa concept - it's more efficient, lighter weight, and has less acceleration shock. These together are referred to as "pulse detonation" concepts. Secondly, there are about a dozen currently achievable concepts that can do it: Orion and medusa, mini-magnetospheric propulsion, solar sail, antimatter catalyzed microfission and microfusion, the various fission core concepts, magnetohydrodynamic propulsion, and of course, my favorite: nuclear saltwater rockets. You use a water-soluable salt of a fissionable material kept in "capillaries" lined with neutron absorbers to prevent reaction until it's ready. You then pump it into a reaction chamber where it becomes critical as it is propelled out the back. It's "dirty", like pulse detonation, but like pulse detonation, most of the propelled material has enough delta-V to escape the solar system.

    One thing I'm curious about is whether black hole propulsion is possible; I've never heard anything about it before. I doubt it is, with current tech levels; I would suspect that getting enough matter into the black hole before it vaporized would require enough acceleration of the matter that you might as well just use it for direct propulsion - but I'm still curious.

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