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Mars NASA Space Science

NASA Mars Rover Spots Its Ultimate Destination 101

Posted by kdawson
from the know-the-place-for-the-first-time dept.
coondoggie writes "It has been years in the making but NASA said its Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has captured a new view of the rim of the planet's Endeavour crater, perhaps the rover's ultimate destination. The Mars rover set out for Endeavour in September 2008 after spending two years exploring the Victoria crater. NASA says Endeavour is 13 miles across, some 25 times wider than Victoria crater, and could offer scientists more insight into the red planet's makeup."
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NASA Mars Rover Spots Its Ultimate Destination

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  • incredible (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jarik C-Bol (894741) on Monday May 03, 2010 @09:48PM (#32080552)
    It still amazes me how long these rovers have lasted. hopefully it makes it to the crater, and lasts for a long time once it gets there.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 03, 2010 @10:32PM (#32080826)

      The requirements were for 90 days at a time when we wanted to send up many such vehicles and robots knowing they were cheap and we would lose some.

      These little guys have lasted far too long, demonstrating the folks at JPL were not able to meet the requirements the taxpayers gave them.

      Far better engineering would have had these things come in at 40% of the cost and had them die on day 97. Then we could have flown more and more of them.

      I hope the guys who managed this fiasco were suitably fired before they had a chance to screw the taxpayer and the space program over again.

      • who pissed in your cherios today?
      • by KibibyteBrain (1455987) on Monday May 03, 2010 @10:50PM (#32080914)
        Except the majority of the cost is fixed in the rockets to escape Earth and the spacecraft to reach mars, so a longer lasting robot is always better so long as it remains a minority of the cost of the exploration system.
        • Whoooosh!
        • by khallow (566160)

          Except the majority of the cost is fixed in the rockets to escape Earth and the spacecraft to reach mars, so a longer lasting robot is always better so long as it remains a minority of the cost of the exploration system.

          This is incorrect. My understanding is that the two Mars Exploration Rovers cost roughly $850 million for the development, launch, and first 90 days of the mission. Of that, roughly $200 million was development cost, somewhere around $450 million was the cost of building (and other work like testing) the rovers, $75 million for operations, and $100 million for two rather cheap Delta II launches. So the launches took up roughly 12% of the total cost. This is typical fraction of cost IMHO for most satellites,

      • by jnnnnn (1079877) on Monday May 03, 2010 @11:40PM (#32081270)

        Wow, I bet you're the guy who makes laptops fail two days after the three-year warranty ends.

        I am all in favour of careful engineering. Designing things to fail is extremely antisocial.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @01:34AM (#32081920)

          The GP is not making an argument for careful engineering, he's making an argument for risky cutting edge engineering.

          He's not saying YOUR laptop should fail after the three day warranty, because that's not the requirements or what a consumer wants from a laptop.

          He's saying a 90 day lifetime rover should die on day 100 having a 10 day safety margin and not a six year safety margin.

          At the time, the spirit (so to speak) was for faster, better, cheaper. But we didn't get faster or cheaper from rover, we got better, just as usual.

          The reward for dying on day 100 after a successful mission would have been to launch more rover and more rovers.

          The punishment for lasting six years is that we've sent no more rovers up there. And the next rover is not the size of a toaster or trashcan, it's the size of an SUV and will be canceled.

          Instead of grabbing the public's attention with a series of rovers, we've bored the public to death with the same version of Johnny 5 rolling around not doing much of anything as far as the public can tell for six years.

          Grandparent is right, these things were way overbuilt.

          • What. The. Fuck. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by tacokill (531275) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:31AM (#32084062)
            In all of my life, I am not sure I have ever read a more cynical post than you just wrote.

            You sir, are the very definition of a crab in a barrel. Do you know what happens to crabs in a barrel when one of them tries to escape? The others pull him back down into the barrel.

            Instead of celebrating the overwhelming success of the program, you denigrate it by saying it was too successful. Making something fail because of some artificial time horizon is just....well...stupid. My god man, don't you have ANY pride in success?

            ...or are all successes just failures waiting to happen???
            • Seems like you just bit the troll. Who himself was weirdly moderated +4, Insightful. While good comments got moderated -1, Troll.

              I don’t think that there is any doubt left, that the moderation system has been taken over by trolls / 4channers.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by r_jensen11 (598210)

            The GP is not making an argument for careful engineering, he's making an argument for risky cutting edge engineering.

            He's not saying YOUR laptop should fail after the three day warranty, because that's not the requirements or what a consumer wants from a laptop.

            He's saying a 90 day lifetime rover should die on day 100 having a 10 day safety margin and not a six year safety margin.

            At the time, the spirit (so to speak) was for faster, better, cheaper. But we didn't get faster or cheaper from rover, we got better, just as usual.

            The reward for dying on day 100 after a successful mission would have been to launch more rover and more rovers.

            The punishment for lasting six years is that we've sent no more rovers up there. And the next rover is not the size of a toaster or trashcan, it's the size of an SUV and will be canceled.

            Instead of grabbing the public's attention with a series of rovers, we've bored the public to death with the same version of Johnny 5 rolling around not doing much of anything as far as the public can tell for six years.

            Grandparent is right, these things were way overbuilt.

            Except that the two scenarios aren't mutually exclusive- we should have continued to send more robots over there while having the robots last longer than we ever expected.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by jbezorg (1263978)

            Grandparent is right, these things were way overbuilt.

            Grandparent needs to read more and I think you do too.

            Launch Successes (s) and Failures (f), 1957–1999 [aero.org]

            With about a 6%-7% chance of failure of not even making it to the planet, you want to make as few launches as possible and get the most out of each.

            Then you have everything that could go wrong during landing. e.g. Beagle 2 and the crater it left in the martian soil.

            Yep, thank God NASA is run by actual rocket scientists rather than internet experts.

      • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @12:10AM (#32081474) Homepage

        Far better engineering would have had these things come in at 40% of the cost and had them die on day 97. Then we could have flown more and more of them.

        Ah, what a fanciful imagination you have of how engineering works.

        Where engineers can guarantee operation in a highly variable, largely unknown environment for X days, yet also nail tolerances so tightly they can predict parts will fail in 1.1X days. And save lots of money in the process, somehow. Even though relative to your own imaginary number the rovers we actually got cost 2.5x, yet lasted more than 25x.

        The rovers were engineered as robustly as possible within the weight budget, simply to ensure that they would work at all on the surface of Mars, and therefore had the potential to last for a very long time. This is obviously a win if you think the goal was to have the maximum number of operational rovers on Mars at any given time. But the reason they haven't launched more has nothing to do with rover cost. It's because they don't have the budget to expand operations to cover more; NASA is already busy with this already vastly expanded mission.

        The only reason a 90 day mission plan came up was because that was their very rough estimate of how long the solar panels could supply sufficient power before they became too covered in dust. They had always hoped they could continue the mission past that and had contingency plans for the operations budget to that effect, and were very pleasantly surprised that their assumptions were wrong. When the Martian wind turned out to be much stronger than expected, enough to blow dust off of the rovers' solar panels, that constraint on the rovers' life span was removed and their robust engineering could pay off.

        Executive summary: The only serious mistake made in the planning, research and design of the rover mission was in predicting a short lifespan for the rovers, and that mistake turned out to be in the mission's and the taxpayer's favor.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by confused one (671304)

          Ah, what a fanciful imagination you have of how engineering works.

          While I don't agree with his supposition, He's not that far off the mark. In manufacturing, if the expected life is 1 year (with a warranty period of 90 days), and if a $10 part will last, literally forever while a $2 part will last for 1 year of continuous use... You choose the $2 part.

          • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            In manufacturing, if the expected life is 1 year (with a warranty period of 90 days), and if a $10 part will last, literally forever while a $2 part will last for 1 year of continuous use... You choose the $2 part.

            Yes. But if the specs for your device includes high-g acceleration on launch, storage in vacuum at very low temperatures during transport, rapid heating during re-entry, another round of high-g deceleration, and finally operation in a thin atmosphere at still very low temperatures, you'll probably need the $10 part anyway. That it'll last virtually forever is just an added benefit.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Yes because those savings will really start to add up as we mass produce rovers.

        • by Restil (31903)

          Not only that, since we seem to crash 50% of everything we send to mars, you pretty much have to outlast your design requirements to get an average success rate.

          The toughest part of the mission is just getting the thing on the ground in one piece. Some redundancy in engineering to hopefully make the rover last the failure of a few components will almost certainly ensure a long lifespan. Even so, don't forget we almost lost Spirit right in the beginning due to a software problem of all things. THAT would

    • Vista is still dead last I checked.

  • by mozumder (178398) on Monday May 03, 2010 @09:50PM (#32080560)

    FREE MARS!

  • Ah yes, (Score:5, Funny)

    by zippthorne (748122) on Monday May 03, 2010 @09:53PM (#32080582) Journal

    " and could offer scientists more insight into the red planet's make-up"

    Mars: the rouge planet!

    • by jhoegl (638955)
      What a maverick!
    • by Thing 1 (178996)
      Weird, your "or this" sig link shows 10,909 sections, with the last being "Expansion of adoption credit and adoption assistance programs" as being part of chapter 49, "Cosmetic Services". I never thought of a living, breathing child as being "cosmetic" before.
    • " and could offer scientists more insight into the red planet's make-up"

      A planet full of Republicans?

  • Wouldn't a large impact just melt/fuse the underlying rock and destroy any evidence of interesting geological, hydrological or biological features?
    • by timmarhy (659436)
      not after however many million years since it's impact.
    • Re:Impact crater (Score:5, Informative)

      by Strider- (39683) on Monday May 03, 2010 @11:39PM (#32081260)

      It will cause deformations to the underlying rock strata, but that strata will still be visible and measurable. At the Haughton Impact crater in northern Canada, the cliffs that make up the crater rim maintain their structure. The material that was ejected has wound up as big breccia hills within the crater, and was also distributed around outside the crater.

      Also, most of the hydrological (and dare I say hydrodynamical?) features actually come up after the impact, and can tell you a lot about the underlying mineralogy. As the heat from the impact dissipates, it heats water, which dissolves some minerals, which then bubble up to the surface. These hydro-thermal events that occur after the impact is also where you can best expect to find microbial life. In effect, you have all the needed ingredients for life present in a hydrothermal vent... warm, running water and associated minerals.

  • by LoudMusic (199347) on Monday May 03, 2010 @10:04PM (#32080658)

    I wonder what alternates to solar panels they've considered. Seems like a satellite could collect solar energy 24.6583 by 7 and beam it to the rover(s) using microwave or something. And the rover could carry less equipment, not have to worry about dust so much, and operate around the clock.

    • Solar panels are the most efficient technology for that job we have today. Microwave transmission requires antennas of huge size - km according to wikipedia [wikipedia.org] and using lasers you'd have to use panels similar the ones being used.
    • Seems like a satellite could collect solar energy 24.6583 by 7

      How do you know the Martian week is 7 days long?

    • by mbone (558574)

      They've done pretty well with solar.

      What they considered was nuclear - the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) will be nuclear powered, and so will not have to rest for the winter.

      The security implications of carrying a nuclear battery do substantially increase the mission cost, however.

    • by necro81 (917438)
      Fine idea, except that it's a technology that has yet to be demonstrated in Earth orbit. Most of the research in this area is for Earth orbiting collectors to beam many megawatts of power. There are numerous technical difficulties that still need to be addressed. The size of the receiver, for one thing. For an orbiting solar power plant, the receiver would be many square kilometers in size. For the small power budget of a rover (100-500 W), the microwave receiver would be much larger than the rover its
    • Granted, I am not a sparky (Elect Engineer) so my knowledge might be lacking here....

      How, exactly, can electricity/power be "beamed" from a satellite to the rover? As far as I know, we can't "beam" any significant amount of electricity because so much is lost in the medium. While I know it's possible to do some induction (like Wii remote chargers), I don't think that technology scales up very well.

      Can you explain this please?
      • by khallow (566160)
        By microwave, light, or other EM frequencies to which Mars' atmosphere is transparent.
        • by tacokill (531275)
          Light? Microwave? Ok, either I am really a newb at eletricity or I am not catching what you are saying.

          Let's take the light example. In other words, a laser. Can you build a laser big enough (as well as a receiver that is big enough) to transmit the energy required to run one of these rovers? I am asking a question about scale. I realize you can transfer some energy via laser. My question is: can you transfer enough to run a Rover? I don't think you can. I don't think we have advanced the tec
          • by khallow (566160)

            Let's take the light example. In other words, a laser. Can you build a laser big enough (as well as a receiver that is big enough) to transmit the energy required to run one of these rovers? I am asking a question about scale. I realize you can transfer some energy via laser. My question is: can you transfer enough to run a Rover? I don't think you can. I don't think we have advanced the technology even close to achieving that.

            Yes, you can transfer enough. Getting that capability into Mars orbit is a different and currently very expensive problem. Just look at the power levels of lasers currently in operation. My understanding is that we already have continuous lasers in the 1 to 10 kW continuous range. They'll have to be green or blue, I think, to be usable by solar panels.

            Same problem with microwave or any other non-wired technology. If this could be done from satellite to the mars surface, then why don't we all have "wireless power cords" by now?

            Because the economics doesn't make sense. Do you want to pay say $1 to $100 per kilowatt-hour when you could plug into the wall for $0.10 per kilowatt-hour po

    • That seems like a very complicated and risky solution to a simpler problem. We have yet to proof of concept solar collectors and microwave energy transfer from orbit combination technologies here on Earth. Trying to do that for a semi-autonomous, moving rover on a distant planet would be....um...tricky and risky. If they don't like solar panels (which, admittedly, do have their limitations) I would think their first alternative power source of consideration would be an RTG [wikipedia.org]. That would give them a nice long
    • by khallow (566160)

      I wonder what alternates to solar panels they've considered. Seems like a satellite could collect solar energy 24.6583 by 7 and beam it to the rover(s) using microwave or something. And the rover could carry less equipment, not have to worry about dust so much, and operate around the clock.

      I understand the current obstacle is converting that power to electricity again. For example, I was informed that if you use somewhere around 2-3 GHz frequency for your beam, then you're limited to somewhere around 200 W per square meter (which is roughly comparable with solar on Mars for efficient solar panels) due to the breakdown voltage of the Schottky diode, which is needed to rectify the microwaves to DC current and the effective area of a dipole antenna (more or less the smallest effective antenna yo

    • Uuum, you do know that there is already a huge satellite there, that beams power down all the time? It’s called the sun!
      And just as much as any “power beam”, it transmits the energy in form of electromagnetic waves.
      And guess what the dust would do to those satellite’s EM waves...

      Exactly.

  • Interesting. We don't know how close we are to finding life on Mars. Keep an eye on the data sent back by these robotic missions.
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Monday May 03, 2010 @10:28PM (#32080796)

    It has been years in the making but NASA said its Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has captured a new view of the rim of the planet's Endeavour crater, perhaps the rover's ultimate destination. The Mars rover set out for Endeavour in September 2008 after spending two years exploring the Victoria crater. NASA says Endeavour is 13 miles across, some 25 times wider than Victoria crater, and could offer scientists more insight into the red planet's make-up."

    K'breel, speaker for the Council, emphasized that the site for the final battle was well-defended:

    "Gentle citizens, it has been years since the twin mechanized monsters touched down on our sweet red soil, but the Council is pleased to report that the last remaining mobile invader from the blue planet has been sighted by sentries approaching the rim of End-Devaur crater. The invader set out for End-Devaur last summer after spending a year at Victory Hole; Planetary Land Defense Forces have pinpointed the invader's location to a point in the trackless wastes at least half a year's journey from End-Devaur."

    "The enemy's slow progress across the wastelands leaves us with ample time to amass an overwhelming counterforce, and at last we shall see this campaign through to its end. Rejoice! Within half a revolution around our star, this monstrosity from the blue world shall find its ultimate destination!"

    When a junior reporter mentioned the persistent rumor that the invader was merely a scientific probe operating at least order of magnitude past its design lifespan, K'Breel raised a spirited toast "to an opportunity for victory!", and devoured the ends of the reporter's gelsacs.

  • Obl. XKCD (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ejtttje (673126) on Monday May 03, 2010 @10:57PM (#32080966) Homepage
    In case anyone hasn't seen it, although featuring Spirit not Opportunity, still applies: http://xkcd.com/695/ [xkcd.com]
  • Since all planned objectives have been met, how about sending one rover to other rover and pull it out of its hole. Then, working as a team, explore MARS together in the true "spirit" of cooperation.
    What an "opportunity"!
    • For me this is an example of how equipment generally can last longer away from Earth. Our environment is corrosive and toxic. Water gets into enclosures. Metals oxidize. Science stations in open space last the longest. On Venus they last the shortest time. Mars is nearer to the long end of the spectrum for survival time.

      If I was going to be programmed into a robot I might choose to live in the asteroid belt. Things decay slower there.

    • because they are on opposite sides of the planet, and move so slowly, that it would take lso long to drive one to the other that it would be your grandchildren who got to see it done.
  • Here's hoping the rover will stay functional until the release of 'John Carter of Mars' (2012, according to IMDB).
  • Links Links (Score:5, Informative)

    by EEPROMS (889169) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @03:04AM (#32082288)
    Don't you hate it when /. posts are linked to blog sites instead of the home page, anyway post your links below

    Home Page

    http://marsrover.nasa.gov/spotlight/20100430a.html [nasa.gov]

    Images

    http://marsrover.nasa.gov/gallery/press/opportunity/20100430a.html [nasa.gov]
  • Not ultimate. Next.

    • I do know what you are getting at and I don't want to see them die, but I don't think you quite grasp how *big* this crater is. It is 13 miles in diameter. Opportunity's total odometer is under 13 miles. It still has another 8 miles to go to reach the crater. Then, to even get *around* would require a doubling of its current lifetime. The crater is just *that* big.

      No, sadly, this will be the ultimate destination, but it will be an AMAZING one!

  • planned obsolescence.
  • I get the impression that this is a debate between optimists and pessimists; ie, is the glass half empty or half full?

    Personally, I'm with the optimists on this one.
  • ... could offer scientists more insight into the red planet's makeup.

    The secret is this: Blush. Lots and lots of blush.

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