New Mars Rover Could Far Outlive Its Lifespan

[Photos: How Curiosity's Nail-Biting Landing Works]

Powered by plutonium

The Curiosity rover is carrying any nuclear energy supply to always be able to cost its batteries and also gas its onboard systems all through its planned two-year mission in Mars. In the particular event that it lasted 5 or 6 years, I wouldn't be shocked. So, there's several redundancy using what we should have."

In your footsteps involving past rovers

Curiosity's predecessors, the twin Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and also Opportunity, surprised scientists by way outlasting his or her warranties on the Red Planet.

Spirit and Chance touched upon Mars around three weeks apart throughout January 2004. If we shed the drive motor about the wheel, we could nonetheless drive along with five. Nevertheless a person in simply no way know."

Follow Denise Chow about Twitter @denisechow or even @Spacedotcom. Nevertheless without shortage of intriguing mysteries in order to tackle, how long could your car-size rover really last upon Mars?

After nearly eight several weeks associated with journeying via space, NASA's Curiosity rover, as well as Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), will make an effort to territory around the Red Planet on the nights Aug.

When NASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity, lands around the Red Planet inside a small over 2 weeks, it'll begin an ambitious mission that is expected in order to last approximately a pair of Earth years. "There's several redundancy there, though. Opportunity, about the other hand, carries on its trek on Mars, having already logged 21.4 miles (34.4 km).

But, since Spirit and also Chance are solar-powered rovers, along with Curiosity will be powered having an RTG, it really is hard to compare your missions, Theisinger said.

"The factors Spirit and Chance lasted more time tend to be different, therefore you can't try to be able to escape your idea," he said. The Actual system uses heat from your decay associated with plutonium-238 for you to produce 110 watts of electrical capacity to cost the rover's batteries.

For 50 years, NASA offers used these sorts of nuclear systems, known as radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), in order to energy unmanned probes to study planets and other objects inside the outer solar system.

In the situation in the Mars Science Laboratory, an RTG ended up being necessary since solar panels on your current own could not create adequate energy to operate the particular huge rover, NASA officials said.

Since RTG-powered rovers do certainly not require sunlight to operate, these spacecraft tend to be effective at exploring more diverse locations, without as much concern concerning the season, time involving day as click here well as latitude. "So, all the mechanisms have been tested to last two to 3 x over we expect your mission to be able to operate, if they haven't failed in that period involving time."

The rover's batteries and also RTG are generally designed to run in Mars for at least 687 Earth days, but sometimes endure for longer. The Particular solar-powered rovers were designed for three-month missions about the Martian surface, nevertheless the intrepid robot explorers lasted far more than had been originally expected.

Spirit has been officially declared dead within Might 2011, following receiving trapped within unforgiving Martian sand. each with the wheels has its own drive motor, thus there's an auto inside your hub regarding each of your generating wheels, where there are usually steering wheels about the 4 corners. Your rover will be equipped having a suite involving 10 instruments which will allow scientists to study your rocks, soil along with atmosphere involving Mars.

The $2.5 billion mission is expected to be carried out over a couple of Earth years, however it is conceivable that the Curiosity rover's lifestyle on Mars could be extended if necessary, said Pete Theisinger, MSL project manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory within Pasadena, Calif. Nevertheless could it last five years? An Individual bet. [Infographic: History involving Robotic Red Planet Missions]

"The RTG suffers from your degradation associated with plutonium dioxide, yet which lasts the extended time," Theisinger said. "Do I feel Curiosity could final longer? That certainly could. Could it last ten years? I don't feel so. "I consider from your RTG, I would anticipate to obtain 10, 12 or even many years from it."

As such, Curiosity's greatest vulnerabilities are generally likely the parts that control its capability to move about around the planet's surface.

"The point you'll say with which we very first run out in the warranty could be with the mechanisms controlling the traveling and also individuals kinds of things," Theisinger said. Solar-powered rovers must property and also function inside a new pretty narrow latitude band nearby the equator, exactly where sufficient sunlight could be accessed in order to generate electricity, agency officials explained.

So really does that will suggest Curiosity ought to last longer around the Martian surface? Not Really necessarily, Theisinger said.

While your rover could realistically survive five or perhaps six many years in Mars, you could find 3 principal places in which could limit Curiosity's life: the particular rover's onboard mechanisms, its batteries, as well as its nuclear-powered RTG, he explained.

"We test your mechanisms generally for 3 x lifestyle sometimes a couple of along with we do not test them to failure," Theisinger advised 5. Your 1-ton rover will set its wheels down in Gale Crater, the 96-mile-wide (154-kilometer) scar about the Martian surface coming from a historical asteroid impact.

As Curiosity explores Gale Crater plus a mysterious mountain, referred for you to as Mount Sharp, at its center, the particular rover will search regarding clues that the planet is, as well as actually was, capable of harboring past as well as present microbial life.

Curiosity will always be the most complex robotic explorer which includes at any kind of time been sent to Mars, NASA officials have got said. We're additionally about Facebook as well as Google+.

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