Mars Science Laboratory

Article

August 19, 2022

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is a NASA exploration mission of the planet Mars. The mission mainly consists of the activities of the rover named Curiosity, which was launched on November 26, 2011 and landed on Mars on August 6, 2012. Immediately after landing, successfully carried out using the EDL (entry, descent, landing) method, more accurate than the missions previously sent to the planet, the rover began sending images from the surface. The duration of the mission was expected to be at least one Martian year (about 2 Earth years) but is still ongoing (3567 sol, 10 Earth years) with the aim of investigating the past and present ability of Mars to sustain life. To allow for more in-depth analysis, Curiosity carries scientific instruments, supplied by the international community, more advanced than those of any previous mission to the red planet; It is also about five times heavier and twice as long as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that arrived on the planet in 2004. On July 22, 2011, NASA announced the area to which the probe would be sent: the Gale crater. The launch then took place in November of the same year by means of an Atlas V vector, and Curiosity finally landed successfully on Mars on August 6, 2012 at 5:14:39 UTC, 7:14:39 Italian time, 8 months after. During its activity on Mars, the robot will analyze dozens of soil and rock samples.

Technical features

Dimensions: The rover is 3 meters long and has a mass of about 900 kg, of which 80 kg in scientific instruments (in comparison the Spirit and Opportunity rovers have a mass of 174 kg, of which 6.8 kg in instruments). Speed: The MSL is able to circumvent obstacles and moves with a maximum speed of 90 meters per hour in automatic navigation, however it is reasonably expected that the average speed will be around 30 meters per hour, depending on the levels of available power, any slippery ground, and visibility. During the two years of the mission, he will travel at least 6 km. Power: Curiosity is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), like the previous Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers in 1976. Computer: The rover has two identical onboard computers, called "Rover Compute Elements" (RCE) and containing radiation-proof circuitry to tolerate the high levels of radiation from space: of these, one is configured as a backup and will take over if serious problems with the main computer. Each computer has 256KB of EEPROM, 256MB of DRAM and 2GB of flash memory. The processor used is the RAD750, successor to the RAD6000 already used successfully in the Mars Exploration Rover mission: it has a computing power of 400 MIPS, while the RAD6000 is capable of up to 35 MIPS. Communications: Curiosity is able to communicate with the Earth in two ways: thanks to a transponder operating in the X-Band, which allows it to communicate directly with our planet, or thanks to a UHF antenna, which communicates through artificial satellites in orbit around Mars (in particular the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter). However, the second transmission mode will be the most used during the mission, since the satellites have greater transmission power and more efficient antennas. The direct data transmission speed is in fact between 0.48 and 31.25 kbps (about half of a connection with an analog modem); communicating with the satellites, on the other hand, the speed is considerably higher: between 125 and 250 kbps. It will then be the satellite to take care of the transmission of data to the Earth. The communication delay is, on average, 14 minutes and 6 seconds.

Scientific load

10 tools were selected:

Cameras (MastCam, MAHLI, MARDI)

All rooms are designed by Malin Space Scien