Wednesday, 8 August 2012

More cameras see light on Mars

With the mast now upright Curiosity's main cameras are waking up to greet the day. The navigational cameras were first to the bathroom. There are four of these, a pair on either side of the main cameras (which are still calibrating). All the mast cameras point the same direction, to give stereoscopic views wherever the mast head is turned.
Here we are looking north, the rim of Gale crater rises in the distance. On the left, just below the centre line, are two apparent 'craters'. These were almost certainly blasted out by the thrusters on the sky crane as it hovered to lower Curiosity to the surface. Hi res colour must be soon. Grow into these trousers... >>

A birds eye view of Curiosity

After it captured Curiosity (MSL) parachuting down, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had another look at the landing site.
MRO was a lot further away on this orbit pass so the resolution isn't so high, however the components which put Curiosity down safely are all clear. The sky crane and parachute are to the left of Curiosity, some 600m away. The heatshield is to the lower right. In about a week the orientation of MRO will be more favourable and another image is planned. Such images will help determine the exact position of Curiosity and let the rover team plan the next move once all the systems have been checked out. Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Shadows of Martian Curiosity

Curiosity stands in Gale crater, looking forwards to the east-southeast, in the late afternoon. The long shadow of Curiosity reaches out towards the mountains some 6km away (it may be further). Is this the central peak of the crater? I'm not sure but possibly not. If it's a foohill what will Mount Sharp look like?

This still just a low res hazcam, though a front one this time, with the original fisheye view  stretched out to look normal. The mast with the hi res cameras will be deployed tomorrow, also the High Gain Antenna has been deployed to give a direct link to Earth. It's working, but full speed comms won't come through till later. Data rates from MRO and Odyssey relays are to be increased so final data speeds will go up about 5x, maybe even to megabits/s ie slow broadband speeds in bursts. Stand by to be really amazed. Grow into these trousers... >>

Another view of Curiosity's heatshield

As MRO was passing overhead Curiosity took it's own pictures with a camera on it's belly. With the parachute deployed the camera began clicking at 4 frames per second when the heatshield was dropped. Here's one of the first frames:
NASA have put together a low res, 4fps video of the whole descent. You can see the heatshield fall away and watch for the dust cloud thrown up at the end by the thrusters. The high res images will come through in a day or two.

  Grow into these trousers... >>

Flash, bang, wallop, what a picture!

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has done it again!* As it passed overhead the mighty HIRISE camera had one chance to capture the scene; here is the result. From over 300km away not only is Curiosity clearly visible, dangling on it's parachute, but below is the heatshield!

But look again. There is no disturbance on the surface around the heatshield, no crater, no dust cloud.
Conclusion - it's still falling!

I stand in awe of these guys - well no, in truth I sit because if I stand I'll pass out due to lack of sleep. Fuck the Olympics, the real action is 14 light minutes away on Mars.

*Four years ago MRO imaged the Phoenix lander in it's descent to the surface. Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 6 August 2012

If Curiosity meets a cat on Mars

...will it be obliged to kill it?
This and other deep philosophical problems may be answered over the coming months following the successful landing of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) aka Curiosity.

 I have dithered for weeks about posting on this because of the hugely ambitious landing procedure. I didn't know how to describe the complexity and all hopes could have been dashed by the failure of one tiny component, but this amalgam of spacecraft, Transformer and Rube Goldberg machine worked flawlessly and delivered a mobile chemistry lab to the surface of Mars. A tribute to the expertise of the team who designed and built it.*
This image is from one of the hazard cameras down near the rover's wheels. They have fisheye lenses and I think the transparent dust caps are still on for protection during landing. Martian pixies should soon remove these for a clearer view. The scene shows a wheel resting on a flat terrain (marsain?) which stretches to the horizon, with the rim of Gale crater rising like mountains on the right.

 Now begins the slow process of bringing all the systems online, testing and calibrating and then Curiosity can do it's job. Inquiry and curiosity are part of the human spirit; this Curiosity may satisfy some of those dreams

EDIT: the dust caps are off in this image. People seem to be surprised at the amount of dust which got through to the lens despite the cap. It's not a problem though, dust will come and go with the wind and was expected.

*If you haven't seen the landing simulation video by now . . . er, which planet have you been on for the last few years? Grow into these trousers... >>