Space

December 5, 2012

NASA Opportunity rover finishes walkabout on Mars crater rim

The latest work assignment for NASA’s long-lived Mars rover Opportunity is a further examination of an area where the robot just completed a walkabout.

“If you are a geologist studying a site like this, one of the first things you do is walk the outcrop, and that’s what we’ve done with Opportunity,” said Steve Squyres, the mission’s principal investigator at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Coming up on its ninth anniversary, Opportunity still is a capable robotic explorer. It has been investigating a crater-rim site where observations from orbiting Mars spacecraft detected traces of clay minerals, which form under wet, non-acidic conditions that can be favorable for life. The rover’s current activities were presented at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

The rover team chose this site as a driving destination years earlier. The site is named Matijevic Hill in honor of the late Jacob Matijevic, who led the engineering team for the twin Mars exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity for several years.

Opportunity drove about 1,160 feet in a counterclockwise circuit around Matijevic Hill in October and November, bringing the total miles driven on the mission to 22 miles. Researchers used the rover to survey the extent of Matijevic Hill outcrops and identify the best places to investigate further.

“We’ve got a list of questions posed by the observations so far,” Squyres said. “We did this walkabout to determine the most efficient use of time to answer the questions. Now we have a good idea what we’re dealing with, and we’re ready to start the detailed work.”

The hill is on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, a bowl 14 miles in diameter. An impact from a celestial object dug this crater more than 3 billion years ago, pushing rocks onto the rim from a greater depth than Opportunity reached during its first several years on Mars. Since the impact, those rocks may have been altered by environmental conditions. Sorting out the relative ages of local outcrops is a key to understanding the area’s environmental history.

“Almost nine years into a mission planned to last for three months, Opportunity is fit and ready for driving, robotic-arm operations and communication with Earth,” said the mission’s deputy project scientist, Diana Blaney, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Two outcrops of high interest on Matijevic Hill are “Whitewater Lake” and “Kirkwood.” Whitewater Lake is light-toned material that science team members believe may contain clay. Kirkwood contains small spheres with composition, structure and distribution that differ from other iron-rich spherules, nicknamed blueberries, that Opportunity found at its landing site and throughout the Meridiani Planum area it has explored. Squyres calls the Kirkwood spheres “newberries.”

“We don’t know yet whether Whitewood Lake and Kirkland are from before or after the crater formed,” he said. “One of the most important things to work out is the order and position of the rock layers to tell us the relative ages. We also need more work on the composition of Whitewater and debris shed by Whitewater to understand the clay signature seen from orbit, and on the composition of the newberries to understand how they formed.”

NASA launched Spirit and Opportunity in 2003. Both completed their three-month prime missions in April 2004 with Spirit ceasing operations in 2010. The mission’s goal is to learn about the history of wet environments on ancient Mars. JPL manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines February 25, 2015

News: Army to send headquarters group to Kandahar in first sign of revision to Afghan withdrawal plan - In the first official sign that the Pentagon plans to keep a U.S. military presence in southern Afghanistan after this year, the Army is sending the 7th Infantry Division headquarters from Joint Base Lewis-McChord on a year-long deployment...
 
 

News Briefs February 25, 2015

Lithuania restores compulsory military service Lithuania will restore compulsory military service for young men as tensions in Ukraine continue to worry the small Baltic nation, the government said Feb. 24. After a meeting of military leaders and top government officials, President Dalia Grybauskaite said the measure was necessary because of growing aggression in Ukraine. Military...
 
 
Sensor Concepts Inc. photograph

Air Force Research Labís handheld imaging tool expands aircraft inspection capability

Sensor Concepts Inc. photograph An operator demonstrates the portability of the handheld imaging tool. The technology provides maintainers the ability to evaluate aircraft in the field to ensure mission-readiness. When pilots c...
 

 

Boeing, Royal Australian Air Force test extended range weapon

The Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munition Extended Range demonstrated significant range increase while maintaining its expected accuracy during flight testing conducted by Boeing and the Royal Australian Air Force. The testing centered on a new wing kit that, when used in conjunction with the weaponís guidance kit, increases the bomb’s range from approximately 15 miles...
 
 

DRS Technologies to provide comm systems for Royal New Zealand Navy frigates

DRS Technologies Inc., a Finmeccanica Company, announced Feb. 25 that its Canadian subsidiary will be providing tactical integrated communications systems to the New Zealand Ministry of Defense for the Royal New Zealand Navy’s ANZAC-class frigates. This subcontract was awarded to DRS Technologies Canada Ltd. in support of a communications modernization contract from Lockheed Martin Canada...
 
 

Northrop Grumman LITENING achieves two million operating hour milestone

In the life cycle of every military system, some milestones stand out as signature achievements. One million operating hours is one of them – and Northrop Grumman’s fielded AN/AAQ-28(V) LITENING pods have hit that number for the second time. “This is a significant milestone for the LITENING program and our team is proud to be...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>