Exploration of Mars by Curiosity

Article

August 14, 2022

Mars Exploration by Curiosity is the mission of the Mars Science Laboratory rover developed by NASA to the planet Mars after landing in Gale Crater on August 6, 2012. The vehicle has 75 kg of scientific equipment and aims to determine if the Martian environment could, in the past, allow the appearance of life. The mission is divided into three phases, of unequal durations: it begins with a two-year approach phase (sol 1, August 2012 - sol 753, September 2014), during which the rover travels 9 km and carries out geological studies during four extended stops: Yellowknife Bay, Darwin , Cooperstown and Kimberley; during the second phase, which lasts two and a half years (sol 753, September 2014 - sol 1678, April 2017), Curiosity travels 7 km. It is gradually directed towards the Bagnold Dunes, a long corridor of thick sand dunes which separates it from Mount Sharp; more exactly towards the narrowest place of this corridor and a priori passable. New extended stops are organized: Parhump Hills, the first Bagnold dunes (in particular, in December 2015, the spectacular Namib Dune, 4 meters high), the Naukluft plateau, the Murray Buttes... until this famous narrow passage where the sand only superficially covers the ground, which allows Curiosity to begin the third and final phase of its mission; since the end of April 2017 (sol 1678) the third phase has been taking place, which is also the longest and most perilous: Curiosity leaves the Bagnold dunes and begins the ascent of Mount Sharp. Driving it to its summit (located 5 km away) would allow him to have an overview of the Gale crater, which measures 150 km in diameter and in the center of which it is located. But the primary objective is at the foot of the mountain, in the lower part of an alluvial valley, likely to provide the most information on the site's past. Having traveled 24.85 km on March 2, 2021 (sol 3047), or about three kilometers per year, Curiosity is in good condition, despite superficially damaged wheels on rough terrain and which sometimes force JPL technicians to modify the originally planned route.

Background

Mars Science Laboratory Mission

Curiosity is the rover of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission whose objective is to explore the planet Mars. The landing site on which the space probe landed on August 6, 2012 is located in the Gale crater. This presents within a restricted perimeter, therefore compatible with the autonomy of the rover, formations reflecting the main geological periods of the planet including that - the Noachian - which could have allowed the appearance of living organisms. The objectives of the rover are to research whether an environment favorable to the appearance of life existed, to analyze the mineralogical composition, to study the geology of the explored area and to collect data on the meteorology and the radiation which reaches the ground of the planet. . The initial duration of the mission is one Martian year or approximately 669 sols (Martian solar days) or 687 Earth (solar) days.

Curiosity Rover

The Curiosity rover is five times heavier than its predecessors, the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER), which allows it to carry 75 kg of scientific equipment, including two mini-laboratories for analyzing organic and mineral components as well as a remote identification system of the composition of rocks based on the action of a laser. The on-board laboratories are fed by a sophisticated sample collection and conditioning system comprising a drill. To meet the increased energy needs and overcome the constraints of the Martian winter and night periods, the rov