Exploring Mars with a 2-megapixel camera: The tech behind Curiosity

Exploring Mars with a 2-megapixel camera: The tech behind Curiosity

Summary: The Mars rover is trying to find out if the Red Planet was ever habitable. Here's the tech it is using to carry out its mission.

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TOPICS: Nasa / Space
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  • This diagram shows one of the most important instruments on board — or rather inside — Curiosity.

    Once the rover's drills and scoops have got hold of some rock to analyse, they pass it on to CheMin (Chemistry and Mineralogy), a powder X-ray diffraction instrument.

    CheMin analyses the samples using an X-ray beam, in order to figure out what minerals they contain. By doing that, the idea is to work out whether water was involved in the rocks' formation, or indeed whether the rocks may contain a potential energy source.

    Image credit: NASA

  • Curiosity carries two radio systems: an X-band system that it can use to communicate directly with Earth, and a UHF system that requires less power, but also necessitates relaying the data via the two Mars orbiters.

    One of the orbiters, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (pictured above) has its own X band antenna and can manage up to 6Mbps — it launched in 2005 and has been used for relaying data in this way from the now-defunct Spirit rover.

    The older orbiter, named 2001 Mars Odyssey, is also being used to relay UHF signals from Curiosity.

    Image credit: NASA

Topic: Nasa / Space

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • Thanks, nice article

    However, I am curious to know if Linux-based hard RTOSs have finally caught up with VxWorks. In other words, could there be competition in the OS space for JPL's next land rover (wherever it might be deployed)?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Short answer is no.

      Between Integrity and VxWorks, they have a strong lock on the industry when it comes to the specific needs of the scalable high reliability software industry. Linux simply does not offer the tools and capabilities (and the testing effort to get there is monumental) to compete effectively.

      Many of the OSes are also home grown. They are very targeted toward the HW platforms they work with and contain very custom designs you simply don't find on COTS hardware.
      Bruizer
  • Thanks, nice article

    However, I am curious to know if Linux-based hard RTOSs have finally caught up with VxWorks. In other words, could there be competition in the OS space for JPL's next land rover (wherever it might be deployed)?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • NASA is rad

    I wish I could just sit there and watch Curiousity do its thing. I guess for now I will have to be satisfied watching my Roomba...
    lippidp
  • Plutonium powered RTG

    It's a shame about the pollution left on earth by the RTG though...

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2012/08/mars_rover_curiosity_its_plutonium_power_comes_courtesy_of_soviet_nukes_.html
    newplanetx