Mars Rover Curiosity Dealing with Wheel Damage

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity faces ongoing wheel put on and tear because it continues its trek throughout the rock-strewn crimson planet.

The car-size Curiosity rover has been on obligation since touchdown on Mars in August 2012. Curiosity has six aluminum wheels, every with its personal particular person motor. The rover has a high pace on flat, onerous floor of a bit over 4 centimeters per second.

However coping with the rocky Martian panorama has grow to be considerably of an unanticipated wheel of misfortune for the Curiosity crew. Again right here on Earth, mission engineers are watching the wheels flip, maintaining a tally of the dings and cracks which have begun to seem.

Grousing About Grousers

“The underside line is that we’re monitoring the wheels on a regular basis,” stated Jim Erickson, Curiosity challenge supervisor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Every of Curiosity’s wheels is about 50 centimeters in diameter and 40 centimeters large. The wheels have so-called grousers that type one thing akin to a tread sample. The pores and skin of a rover wheel is simply 0.75 millimeters thick, with the protruding grousers offering structural energy.

Erickson stated that, up to now, no grouser has been damaged — and that’s factor. “You’ll be able to break one. It seems to be unhealthy, however not horrible. We aren’t there but,” he stated.

Particular wheel assessments have been carried out at JPL. Even with two-thirds of the interior a part of the wheel gone, driving on that outer one-third of the wheel seems doable, Erickson stated.

Unsure Wheel Life

Curiosity’s two entrance wheels started accumulating injury early within the mission.That put on and tear continues, and now the rover’s two center wheels are displaying main injury, Erickson stated.

However “the rear wheels are nonetheless nearly pristine,” he stated.

To assist address the wheel scenario, Curiosity engineers are taking a look at software program adjustments on the automobile, “to try to make issues a bit bit higher,” Erickson stated. “They’ve had some good assessments, however it’s not prepared for prime time but.”

The software program may present situational consciousness to the wheels, Erickson stated, matching wheel drive with electrical present, relying on what terrain the rover faces.

There stay uncertainties about how a lot total wheel life is left on Curiosity, Erickson stated. One useful treatment is to fastidiously information the robotic by means of less-damaging terrain, he stated.

Proper Steadiness

Group members spend important quantities of time planning out Curiosity’s routes, notably making use of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and its high-resolution imaging science experiment (HiRISE) digicam system.

Discovering the proper stability between wheel safety and knowledge assortment can also be on the thoughts of Curiosity challenge scientist Ashwin Vasavada, additionally of JPL.

“Curiosity’s engineering and science groups have spent over a 12 months understanding how the rover’s design and driving algorithms — and Mars’ terrain — led to extra wheel injury than was anticipated,” Vasavada stated. “We’ve additionally developed a wheel take a look at mattress to raised predict how the wheels will degrade over time, below sure situations.”

As well as, Vasavada stated that Curiosity groups have mapped out a community of routes up Mount Sharp — the 5.5 kilometer mountain whose foothills the rover is exploring — that adjust of their scientific worth and in addition in threat to the robotic’s wheels.

“This permits the challenge as a complete to search out the proper stability between our scientific progress and elements like wheel put on, slopes and navigability,” Vasavada stated. “All of it seems to be fairly optimistic and manageable at this level.”

Erickson agrees.

From all the simulation testing, “the wheel evaluation is that we haven’t used up 50 % of the wheels as but … and we’ve been driving for 3 years. I suppose I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic,” Erickson stated. “I’m extra resigned to the truth that we have now a consumable.”

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