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Daily Update - 10/21/08
Getting Ready to Make the Next Move
Spirit Status for sol 1695-1701

In recent weeks, increasing solar power has enabled Spirit to complete more science activities. Spirit has finished the 360-degree, full-color view of its winter surroundings, known as the "Bonestell panorama," and acquired extra frames at super resolution to enhance details in the imagery. The rover also has documented seasonal changes in the atmosphere by measuring argon gas with the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer.

The tradeoff has been that by funneling most available power into science activities, Spirit has not had much power for sending data to Earth. That is about to change, because Spirit's on-board memory is nearly full. Instead of sending data only every fourth day, Spirit will begin relaying data every day to NASA's Odyssey orbiter for transmission to Earth.

Rover operators will use the data to plan Spirit's first, post-winter drive to adjust the rover's position to keep the solar panels facing the Sun. The move will put the rover in optimum position before solar conjunction, when Earth and Mars will be on opposite sides of the Sun and communication will not be possible. Solar conjunction will take place on Martian days, or sols, 1745-1760 (Nov. 29-Dec. 15, 2008).

Meanwhile, Spirit is healthy, with all subsystems performing as expected as of sol 1700 (Oct. 14, 2008). Solar-array energy has been 242 watt-hours (100 watt-hours is the amount of energy needed to light a 100-watt bulb for one hour). After weeks of remarkably clear skies, atmospheric opacity or tau, a measure of the decrease in sunlight caused by atmospheric dust, has risen slightly to 0.294. Atmospheric dust levels remain low, but are beginning to trend upward and affect solar power levels. This increase is expected, as it has occurred at this time of year in each of the previous three Martian years.

The dust factor -- the percentage of light penetrating dust on Spirit's solar arrays -- has remained steady. Only 32 percent of the sunlight reaching the arrays penetrates the dust to generate electricity.

Sol-by-sol summary

In addition to making daily measurements of the amount of atmospheric dust preventing sunlight from reaching the rover's solar arrays, Spirit completed the following activities:

Sol 1695 (Oct. 9, 2008): Spirit checked for drift (changes with time) in the miniature thermal emission spectrometer, surveyed the sky and ground with the instrument, did survey work with the panoramic camera, and surveyed a surface target dubbed "Jules Verne" with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer.

Sol 1696: Spirit surveyed the sky and ground with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer and made some finishing touches to the lower edge of the full-color, 360-degree view of the rover's winter surroundings by acquiring 3 panels of images known as "Bonestell lower tiers" 1, 2, and 3.

Sol 1697: Spirit used the miniature thermal emission spectrometer to survey the sky, the ground, and a target known as "Stapledon." Spirit parked the panoramic camera mast assembly with the panoramic camera pointed below the horizon to minimize dust accumulation.

Sol 1698: Spirit took spot images of the sky for calibration purposes with the panoramic camera and spent much of the day recharging the battery.

Sol 1699: Spirit surveyed the sky at different elevations as well as the ground with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer and used the panoramic camera to survey the horizon and take thumbnail images of the sky on the rover's right (starboard).

Sol 1700: Spirit surveyed the sky and ground with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer and took spot images of the sky with the panoramic camera. Spirit relayed information from Mars to NASA's Odyssey orbiter for transmission to Earth.

Sol 1701 (Oct. 15, 2008): Spirit surveyed the sky and ground with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer and monitored dust accumulation on the panoramic-camera mast assembly.

Odometry

As of sol 1700 (Oct. 14, 2008), Spirit’s total odometry remained at 7,528.0 meters (4.7 miles).



Daily Update - 10/20/08
Spirit Upgrades Calling Plan
Spirit Status for sol 1678-1684

Thanks to clear skies and longer Martian days, Spirit can accept three "collect phone calls" a week from Earth instead of two. The rover "pays" for each phone call, which is filled with new activities, with solar energy. As winter fades and sunlight increases with the coming Martian spring, Spirit can stay awake a little longer and accomplish more each day. For example, Spirit is making significant progress toward completing the 360-degree view of the north-facing slope where the rover has spent the past winter.

Spirit continues to phone home less frequently, however, sending news only every fourth Martian day, or sol. That's because the link to NASA's Odyssey orbiter occurs late in the Martian afternoon, when the rover's solar arrays are not generating much energy. The transmission relies almost completely on battery power. Spirit can "bounce back" from the current schedule by replenishing the battery after the Sun rises the next day, but more frequent downlinks remain problematic.

On sol 1680 (Sept. 23, 2008), Spirit completed the interplanetary equivalent of synchronizing watches. The rover sent a five-minute "timing beep" to Earth at X-band frequencies from its high-gain antenna. Antennas on Earth listened for the beep, which couldn't be detected by humans (if humans could hear microwaves, the beep would sound like a five-minute tone). By comparing the expected end time of the beep with the measured end time, rover operators estimated "drift" in Spirit's on-board clock. Currently, Spirit's clock lags by about 45 seconds, well within operational tolerance.

Spirit is healthy, with all subsystems performing as expected as of the report from NASA's Odyssey orbiter on sol 1678 (Sept. 21, 2008). Solar-array energy has increased ever so slightly from 255 watt-hours to 256 watt-hours (100 watt-hours is the amount of energy needed to light a 100-watt bulb for one hour). Skies remain clear, with tau, a measure of the amount of sunlight blocked by atmospheric dust, at 0.14. The dust factor remains steady, with 32.3 percent of incoming sunlight actually penetrating dust on the solar arrays to generate electricity.

Sol-by-sol summary

In addition to taking daily measurements of dust-related changes in atmospheric opacity (tau), Spirit completed the following activities:

Sol 1678 (Sept. 21, 2008): Spirit acquired column 24, part 1 and column 25, part 1 of the so-called "Bonestell panorama," a full-color, 360-degree view of the rover's winter surroundings, using all 13 color filters of the panoramic camera. The rover checked for drift -- changes with time -- in the miniature thermal emission spectrometer and surveyed the sky and ground with the instrument. Spirit relayed data to NASA's Odyssey orbiter to be transmitted to Earth.

Sol 1679: Spirit completed the runout portion of the master sequence of commands and recharged the batteries.

Sol 1680: Spirit sent a five-minute timing beep to Earth to synchronize its clock with Earth's clocks. The rover completed the runout portion of the master sequence of commands and recharged the batteries.

Sol 1681 (Sept. 24, 2008): Spirit switched from planning 2 days a week to planning 3 days a week. The new schedule calls for more "up time" to accommodate more frequent uplinks from Earth and more science activities. Spirit checked for drift in the miniature thermal emission spectrometer and surveyed the sky and ground with the instrument. The rover acquired column 26, part 1; column 27, part 1; and column 18, part 2 of the Bonestell panorama, using all 13 filters of the panoramic camera.

Sol 1682: Spirit checked for drift in the miniature thermal emission spectrometer and surveyed the sky and ground with the instrument. Spirit took spot images of the sky for calibration purposes with the panoramic camera and recharged the batteries.

Sol 1683: Plans called for Spirit to listen for signals from Earth with the rover's low-gain antenna, check for drift in the miniature thermal emission spectrometer, survey the sky and ground with the spectrometer, and calibrate the spectrometer. Spirit was also to acquire column 18, part 3; column 18, part 4; and column 20, part 2 of the Bonestell panorama. The rover was to take color images of the external calibration target with the panoramic camera.

Sol 1684 (Sept. 27, 2008): Plans called for Spirit to check for drift in the miniature thermal emission spectrometer, survey the sky and ground with the instrument, and acquire column 19, part 2, and column 21, part 2 of the Bonestell panorama.

Odometry

As of sol 1682 (Sept. 25, 2008), Spirit’s total odometry remained at 7,528.0 meters (4.7 miles).



Daily Update - 10/20/08
Spirit's Memory Is Getting Full
Spirit Status for sol 1690-1694

Taking advantage of recent improvements in battery power, Spirit has been rushing to complete top science activities before making a "sun-chasing" adjustment in position in late October. As a result, Spirit's on-board memory has been filling up dramatically as the rover relays data to Earth only once every four Martian days, or sols. In addition, transmissions are challenging because of the rover's position relative to NASA's Odyssey orbiter.

Rover operators plan to increase the flow of information to Earth via Odyssey to about three sessions per week starting on sol 1700 (Oct. 14). Even so, Spirit may need to go on a bit of a science diet over the next few weeks to free up sufficient memory for solar conjunction. That's the period when the Sun is between the Earth and Mars and blocks communications.

Spirit completed work on the 360-degree view of its winter surroundings, known as the "Bonestell panorama." The finished product includes a few select frames taken at super resolution for more detailed study. Spirit also completed another measurement of argon gas in the Martian atmosphere using the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer. The measurements help scientists characterize seasonal airflows between the Martian poles.

In the past, rover operators have relied on "beeps" from Spirit to know if the rover received and activated command sequences from Earth. The beeps were X-band transmissions sent to Earth over Spirit's low-gain antenna. As power levels sank in the depth of winter, engineers discontinued the beeps to save energy. Recently, they attempted to start sending beeps again, only to find that the signal strength from the low-gain antenna was not great enough for Earth to hear. They decided to send a few beeps from Spirit's dish-shaped, high-gain antenna. Those transmissions were excellent. Rover planners have used them to get a rough estimate of the time drift in the rover's clock during the past nine months or so. The "timing beeps" show that the spacecraft clock has drifted 40 to 50 seconds from "Earth" time.

Spirit is healthy, with all subsystems performing as expected as of sol 1694 (Oct. 8, 2008). Solar-array energy dropped slightly during the past week to 255 watt-hours (100 watt-hours is the amount of energy needed to light a 100-watt bulb for one hour). Tau, a measure of the amount of sunlight blocked by atmospheric dust, increased from 0.134 to 0.209. Historically, dust levels have been elevated at this time of year. Rover operators are keeping close tabs on atmospheric dust because of its potential impact on the rover's low power state.

Sol-by-sol summary

In addition to standard daily activities, which include using the panoramic camera (sometimes more than once) to measure the amount of atmospheric dust preventing sunlight from reaching the solar arrays, checking for drift (changes with time) in the miniature thermal emission spectrometer, and surveying the sky and ground with the instrument, Spirit completed the following activities:

Sol 1690 (Oct. 4, 2008): Spirit acquired column 23, part 3, and column 25, part 3 of the Bonestell panorama, a full-color, 360-degree view of the rover's winter surroundings made with all 13 color filters of the panoramic camera. Before relaying data to Odyssey to be transmitted to Earth, Spirit acquired four movie frames in search of clouds with the navigation camera.

Sol 1691: Spirit acquired column 27, part 3; column 26, part 3; column 24, part 3; and column 22, part 3 of the Bonestell panorama. The rover supplemented the usual, panoramic-camera measurements of atmospheric dust with measurements from the navigation camera. Spirit used the navigation camera to acquire a four-frame movie in search of Martian clouds.

Sol 1692: Spirit acquired column 20, part 3 of the Bonestell panorama as well as half of a super-resolution frame nicknamed "A" and later nicknamed "Hercules Joyner," in honor of a member of the all-black Tuskegee Airmen who served in World War II. The rover acquired a four-frame movie in search of clouds with the navigation camera.

Sol 1693: Spirit surveyed the sky at high Sun with the panoramic camera and acquired half of a super-resolution frame dubbed "General BO Davis," in honor of another Tuskegee Airman. The rover surveyed a target known as "Gernsback" with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer.

Sol 1694 (Oct. 8, 2008): After sending data to Odyssey, Spirit measured atmospheric argon with the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer.

Odometry

As of sol 1694 (Oct. 8, 2008), Spirit’s total odometry remained at 7,528.0 meters (4.7 miles).



Daily Update - 10/6/08
Opportunity Takes a Victory Lap
Opportunity Status for sol 1661-1668

A journey of 7.5 miles began with a partial victory lap around "Victoria Crater," as Opportunity headed south toward enormous "Endeavour Crater." Partway around the circuit, Opportunity passed the 7.5-mile mark of the mission. In metric terms, the rover began a 12,000-meter, cross-country trek by ending a similar 12,000-meter journey across uncharted terrain and in and out of craters.

Opportunity also chalked up the second-longest drive of the mission on sol 1663 (Sept. 27, 2008), advancing 153 meters (500 feet). Three days later, Opportunity drove another 129 meters (423 feet), on sol 1666 (Sept. 30, 2008).

Along the way, the rover took advantage of opportunities to explore rock layers and other features visible from the rim of Victoria Crater. The first drive of the trek on Martian day, or sol, 1661 (Sept. 25, 2008) included a drive-by photo shoot with the camera pointed at a small crater known as "Sputnik Crater" on the edge of Victoria. That drive covered 27 meters (89 feet).

Drive performance has been excellent, with very little wheel slippage on this terrain. As a result, Opportunity is now in position to approach Victoria Crater again. This time, the rover's itinerary will take it onto a promontory called "Cape Victory" for a photo shoot of rock layers visible in a neighboring promontory known as "Cape Pillar."

On its journey to the southeast, Opportunity will have route-planning assistance from super high-resolution images taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Rover operators will use the images, which reveal details as small as individual boulders, to plot the safest path.

Opportunity remains healthy, with all subsystems performing as expected as of Martian day, or sol, 1666 (Sept. 30, 2008). Power continues to improve, with sunlight generating 654 watt-hours of solar energy -- enough to light a 100-watt bulb for 6.5 hours (100 watt-hours is the amount of energy needed to light a 100-watt bulb for one hour.)

Sol-by-sol summary

Besides measuring daily, dust-related changes in atmospheric clarity with the panoramic camera, Opportunity completed the following activities:

Sol 1661 (Sept. 25, 2008): Midway through the sol's drive, Opportunity acquired a 3-by-1 panel of images of Sputnik using the navigation camera. The rover acquired a 2-by-1 panel of forward-looking images with the navigation camera. Before relaying data to NASA's Odyssey orbiter for transmission to Earth, Opportunity took several tiers of post-drive images, including a 4-by-1 tier with the panoramic camera as well as 3-by-1 and 7-by-1 tiers with the navigation camera.

Sol 1662: In the morning, Opportunity took thumbnail images of the sky for calibration purposes with the panoramic camera. After sending data to Odyssey, Opportunity measured argon gas in the Martian atmosphere using the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer.

Sol 1663: Opportunity searched for morning clouds by acquiring six, freeze-frame images to be stitched together into a movie. Before the day's drive, Opportunity acquired a 3-by-1 mosaic of images of Sputnik, an image of another small crater nicknamed "Gauss," and a ripple profile with the panoramic camera. Opportunity made the second-longest, single-day drive of the mission, traveling a distance of 152 meters (449 feet). The rover acquired rearward-looking images of the ground near its wheels with the hazard-avoidance cameras and relayed data to Odyssey.

Sol 1664: Opportunity searched for morning clouds by acquiring six movie frames with the navigation camera. The rover acquired a 2-by-1 panel of forward-looking images with the navigation camera. After driving another 129 meters (423 feet), Opportunity acquired a 3-by-1 tier of navigation-camera images and a 7-by-1 and 6-by-1 tier of panoramic-camera images. Using all 13 color filters of the panoramic camera, Opportunity completed a systematic survey and took images of the external magnets. After sending data to Odyssey, the rover measured atmospheric argon.

Sol 1665: In the morning, Opportunity took spot images of the sky for calibration purposes with the panoramic camera. The rover surveyed the sky at high Sun and also measured albedo -- surface brightness -- with the panoramic camera. After relaying data to Odyssey, Opportunity measured argon gas in the atmosphere with the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer.

Sol 1666 (Sept. 30, 2008): Opportunity took morning thumbnail images of the sky for calibration purposes with the panoramic camera. In conjunction with the day's drive, the rover took a 2-by-1 panel of forward-looking images with the navigation camera. Opportunity acquired a 3-by-1 and a 7-by-1 post-drive tier of images with the navigation camera as well as a 4-by-1 panel of images with the panoramic camera. After sending data to Odyssey, Opportunity measured atmospheric argon. Plans for the following day called for the rover to take spot images of the sky with the panoramic camera, monitor dust accumulation on the rover mast, and acquire a six-frame movie in search of Martian clouds.

Odometry

As of sol 1666 (Sept. 30, 2008), Opportunity’s total odometry was 12,188.15 meters (7.53 miles).



Daily Update - 10/6/08
Spirit and Earth Stick Together
Spirit Status for sol 1685-1689

Spirit is poised to begin making more "phone calls" to Earth and engineers are preparing to contact Spirit more frequently as a result of improving solar power input on Mars. Though Spirit's energy levels are still low, they are improving significantly as Martian winter gradually fades into spring. The rover will use some of the energy to let engineers and scientists know how things are going on Mars.

Spirit stays in touch by transmitting data at UHF frequencies to NASA's Odyssey orbiter. Odyssey sends it to Earth. On the other end of the line, engineers send new activity plans to Spirit using X-band transmissions from Earth that go directly to the rover's dish antenna. More frequent communication allows greater operational flexibility as the rover gradually returns to a normal planning schedule and prepares to drive again in mid- to late October.

Spirit's first post-winter drive will be short, just far enough to adjust the rover's position so its solar panels remain tilted toward the Sun as it moves higher in the sky. The goal is to have Spirit in the best possible position before solar conjunction -- the time of year when the Sun passes between Mars and Earth and temporarily prohibits communication.

Meanwhile, Spirit has been working hard to complete the full-color "Bonestell panorama" of the rover's winter surroundings. After a long hiatus caused by power limitations, Spirit resumed making measurements of argon gas in the Martian atmosphere.

Spirit is healthy, with all subsystems performing as expected as of sol 1686 (Sept. 30, 2008). Solar-array energy increased to 262 watt-hours (100 watt-hours is the amount of energy needed to light a 100-watt bulb for one hour). Skies remained clear, with tau, a measure of the amount of sunlight blocked by atmospheric dust, at 0.134. Historically, dust levels at this time of year have been higher. Rover operators are keeping close tabs on atmospheric dust because of its potential impact on the rover's power state.

Sol-by-sol summary

Spirit completed the following activities:

Sol 1685 (Sept. 28, 2008): Spirit listened for communications from Earth with the rover's low-gain antenna, checked for drift -- changes with time -- in the miniature thermal emission spectrometer, surveyed the sky and ground with the instrument, and measured atmospheric opacity caused by dust (tau) with the panoramic camera. Spirit monitored dust accumulation on the panoramic-camera mast assembly and acquired column 22, part 2, and column 24, part 2 of the so-called "Bonestell panorama," a full-color, 360-degree view of the rover's winter surroundings, created with all 13 color filters of the panoramic camera.

Sol 1686: Spirit received new instructions from Earth at X-band frequencies sent to the rover's high-gain antenna and spent three hours measuring argon gas in the Martian atmosphere with the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer. Spirit relayed data to NASA's Odyssey orbiter to be transmitted to Earth.

Sol 1687: Spirit measured dust-related changes in atmospheric darkness with the panoramic camera and acquired column 23, part 2 and column 25, part 2 of the Bonestell panorama.

Sol 1688: Spirit checked for drift in the miniature thermal emission spectrometer, surveyed the sky and ground with the instrument, and measured atmospheric opacity caused by dust with the panoramic camera. Spirit acquired column 27, part 2 and column 26, part 2 of the Bonestell panorama. The rover supplemented panoramic-camera measurements of atmospheric dust with measurements from the navigation camera and acquired a four-frame movie in search of clouds with the navigation camera.

Sol 1689 (Oct. 3, 2008): Plans called for Spirit to measure dust-related changes in atmospheric darkness with the panoramic camera and acquire column 19, part 3 and column 21, part 3 of the Bonestell panorama. The rover was to assess atmospheric dust levels with the navigation camera and produce a four-frame, time-lapse movie of potential clouds passing overhead.

 

Odometry

As of sol 1686 (Sept. 30, 2008), Spirit’s total odometry remained at 7,528.0 meters (4.7 miles).



Daily Update - 10/1/08
Road Trip Gets Under Way
Opportunity Status for sol 1655-1660

Opportunity has embarked on the next great challenge -- a journey of 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) southeast to a huge hole in the ground nicknamed "Endeavour Crater." Measuring 22 kilometers (14 miles) from rim to rim and plunging 300 meters (1,000 feet) below the surface, Endeavour Crater is significantly larger than "Victoria Crater," which is 730 meters (almost half a mile) wide and 70 meters (200 feet) deep. Because it is so much deeper, Endeavour promises to expose even more rock layers going further back in time.

Opportunity's trek began on sol 1659 (Sept. 23, 2008), as the rover backed away from a slippery ripple and advanced 10 meters (30 feet) toward its destination. The journey to Endeavour will be long. Opportunity is sure to encounter many interesting science opportunities along the way.

During the previous week, Opportunity's wheels slipped excessively while trying to cross a ripple to reach a patch of dust on the ripple's downwind side. After two tries on sols 1652 (Sept. 16, 2008) and 1654 (Sept. 18, 2008), rover operators decided to resume driving and look for other deposits of Martian dust in more accessible locations.

Opportunity remains healthy. All subsystems are performing as expected as of Martian day, or sol, 1660 (Sept. 24, 2008). Power is on the rise, with sunlight generating 623 watt-hours of solar energy -- enough to light a 100-watt bulb for more than 6 hours (100 watt-hours is the amount of energy needed to light a 100-watt bulb for one hour.)

Sol-by-sol summary

Besides measuring daily, dust-related changes in atmospheric clarity with the panoramic camera, Opportunity completed the following activities:

Sol 1655 (Sept. 19, 2008): Opportunity acquired full-color images, using all 13 filters of the panoramic camera, of a target dubbed "Velvet." Opportunity took images of the tracks made by the rover's wheels with the navigation camera.

Sol 1656: Opportunity acquired a 5-by-1 panel of images with the navigation camera and a 10-by-1 panel of images with the panoramic camera. After relaying data to NASA's Odyssey orbiter as it passed overhead for transmission to Earth, Opportunity measured atmospheric dust at sunset with the panoramic camera. The rover measured argon gas in the Martian atmosphere with the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer.

Sol 1657: In the morning, Opportunity monitored dust on the panoramic-camera mast assembly. The rover took panoramic-camera images of its tracks and, after sending data to Odyssey, measured atmospheric argon with the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer.

Sol 1658: Following several measurements of atmospheric dust at different times of day, Opportunity relayed data to Odyssey and used the the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer  to determine the amount of atmospheric argon.

Sol 1659: In the morning, Opportunity took thumbnail images as well as spot images of the sky for calibration purposes with the panoramic camera. Opportunity then began the trek to Endeavour, driving almost 10.5 meters (34 feet). The rover acquired images of the surrounding terrain with the navigation camera just before and just after ending the drive. After sending data to Odyssey, the rover measured atmospheric argon.

Sol 1660 (Sept. 24, 2008): Opportunity surveyed the morning horizon with the panoramic camera and acquired six, time-lapse movie frames in search of clouds with the navigation camera. At high Sun, Opportunity surveyed the sky with the panoramic camera. Before relaying data to Odyssey, Opportunity took images of the rover's wheel tracks with the panoramic camera.

Odometry

As of sol 1659 (Sept. 23, 2008), Opportunity’s total odometry was 11,808.39 meters (7.34 miles).



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