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Mars Rover Curiosity Mission Extended

Curiosity's mission was originally planned to last two years. It has now been extended indefinitely.
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.

2011 + 55 = 2066, almost to Canada's bicentential.

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comment(s); comment here or there.

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Canada was founded in 1767?

D'oh! My brain was thinking bicentenial!

Cannot resist

Two different typos bring out the spelling nitpicker in me. It is bicentennial. With two n's. (As any dictionary will confirm.)

Oh NOW I get it...

No, you got it right. 1867-2067 = Canadian Bicentennial of Confederation.

NOW there is a God. Er, NOW it says "bicentenial".

While the RTG might last 55 years, I suspect the boring mechanical bits will be struggling in 10 years.

I'd consider that a success.

Considering how well Spirit, Opportunity and the Voyager probes have managed thus far? I wonder about that. (Granted, they're outliers of at least two sorts...)

Well, Sprint and Opportunity are on their last legs mechanically, jammed wheels, broken tools etc... and one of them is dead now. They don't have the RTG to provide heat to the electronics though. But the effect of the sand and grit on moving parts isn't good.

They probably have another 40 years as stationary base stations mind you...

Remarkable as they are, Spirit did suffer a broken wheel, and spent its last several months of activity bogged down in soft ground, so they're not indestructible.

True enough. But they definitely delivered on the investment.

No question about that. And Soujourner set the bar for that too designed to last 7 sols and did 90... Spirit was designed for 90 sols and 20 times that...

I honestly expect the Curiosity to do at least 6 years roaming, probably 10... but the wheels and drive motors will give up the ghost. The RTG means they won't have the battery failures that have killed Spirit though... hopefully they'll be there and transmitting images to show people waving home...

Honestly with that long running we could send it a mobility scooter if any of its wheels go before that.

We can design a new and slightly-larger rover to land next to Curiosity, load it onto a flatbed platform, and carry it around for another x years!

Voyager just floats through vacuum and keeps something aimed at Earth. It's promising for future interstellar probes (if we can do that well by accident) but not really comparable to something that gets to enjoy dust, temperature changes, and wind. many years (decades?) away are we from being able to build a rover that could land near the base of Olympus Mons and climb to the top of it?

The scarp around the lower edge would be the hardest part. The rest of the volcano is a relatively gentle slope. Actually, a rover might have better luck landing near the top.

...though the relative lack of atmosphere would change things a lot. It might have to use the Lunokhod method, gigantic lander with a powered descent.

But that would be cheating. Like parachuting onto Everest or K-9 and then climbing down. Might be at least as technically difficult as doing it the right way, but it's still not sportsmanlike.

Just play back the footage in reverse!

There are expendables

For instance, there's a limited supply of helium on board. Helium is used to blow stuff clean -- i.e., to blow samples out of the lab once they've been processed. When the helium runs out, the lab stops working.

Also, the 55 year thing is slightly notional. It means that Curiosity will be able to move, talk to Earth, and do *something*. But its capabilities will degrade steadily up to then. Already, Curiosity has to stop dead for most of a sol whenever it heats samples internally (because it heats them up to several hundred degrees, and this uses up all its power output for a while). 14 years from now, power output will be around 80% of current levels. If the rover is still active, we'll start to see significant complications by then. High-power operations like sample heating may be removed from the menu, and even lower power operations will begin to jostle each other for the limited power available.

All that said, right now everyone expects that it will be simple mechanical failure that brings Curiosity down. Mars is a harsh environment, and a rover has a lot of moving parts.

Doug M.

Re: There are expendables

And I'm pretty sure there's no local auto club to be a member of.

Re: There are expendables

I assume there is some reason why compressed Martian air is not suitable?

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