Wed Dec 5, 2012, 11:57 AM
n2doc (39,344 posts)
Mars Rover Curiosity Gets Mission Extension, new rover Mission announced
SAN FRANCISCO — When NASA's next Mars rover touches down in 2021, its six-wheeled sister, Curiosity, may still be chugging around the Red Planet.
NASA announced Tuesday (Dec. 4) that it plans to launch an unmanned rover toward the Red Planet in 2020, to help pave the way for an eventual Martian sample-return mission. The new rover will be based heavily on Curiosity, whose Aug. 5 landing kicked off a mission to determine if the Red Planet could ever have supported microbial life.
Curiosity's mission was originally planned to last two years. It has now been extended indefinitely.
"We've already decided with this plan that we will continue to operate Curiosity as long as it's scientifically viable," John Grunsfled, NASA's associate administrator for science, said here Tuesday at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. "And that could be a long time."
Just how long Curiosity could keep roving is an open question. The $2.5 billion robot is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which should be able to continue converting the heat of plutonium-238's radioactive decay into electricity for a long time to come.
"I never get a straight answer on this, but I think it has 55 years of positive power margin," Grunsfeld said.
5 replies, 1007 views
Mars Rover Curiosity Gets Mission Extension, new rover Mission announced (Original post)
Response to longship (Reply #1)
Wed Dec 5, 2012, 05:43 PM
bananas (25,828 posts)
3. "Could it last 10 years? I don't think so. But could it last five years? You bet."
Last edited Wed Dec 5, 2012, 06:27 PM - Edit history (1)
At a presentation before the launch, I thought they said they expect the motor and wheels to work for at least a decade, but this article says 5 or 6 years:
New Mars Rover Could Far Outlive Its Lifespan
by Denise Chow, SPACE.com Staff Writer
Date: 20 July 2012 Time: 01:52 PM ET
While the rover could realistically survive five or six years on Mars, there are three main areas that could limit Curiosity's life: the rover's onboard mechanisms, its batteries, and its nuclear-powered RTG, he explained.
"The RTG suffers from the degradation of plutonium dioxide, but that lasts a long time," Theisinger said. "I think from the RTG, I would expect to get 10, 12 or 15 years out of it."
As such, Curiosity's greatest vulnerabilities are likely the parts that control its ability to move around on the planet's surface.
"The reasons Spirit and Opportunity lasted longer are different, so you can't run away with that idea," he said. "Do I think Curiosity could last longer? It certainly could. Could it last 10 years? I don't think so. But could it last five years? You bet. If it lasted five or six years, I wouldn't be shocked. But you never know."
Response to longship (Reply #1)
Wed Dec 5, 2012, 06:26 PM
Posteritatis (18,807 posts)
4. The Voyagers are expected to still be talking to Earth at that age.
When NASA engineers decide something needs to get done right, it gets done. Curiosity's "officially" expected to last two or three years, but in practice people are talking a decade-plus even taking mechanical wear into account.
Response to Posteritatis (Reply #4)
Thu Dec 6, 2012, 04:25 AM
longship (27,668 posts)
5. Voyagers are not in the dusty Mars environment.
Dust is doom for mechanicals. The servo motors operating the various instruments, etc. are being exposed to the dirt and dust from Mars' regolith. One of those Mars dust storms could cause troubles for Curiosity. Of course the mission knows about those, but such a storm would undoubtedly cause troubles and degrade Curiosity's life.