NASA gives Curiosity Mars rover its first major software update

NASA gives Curiosity Mars rover its first major software update

Summary: An update uploaded to the mobile laboratory as it was en route from Earth to Mars was installed over the weekend, to help Curiosity carry out its experiments and not bump into things

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TOPICS: Nasa / Space
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NASA's Curiosity rover had its first major software update over the weekend, making the mobile laboratory more suited to its life on the Martian surface.

The switchover took place between Friday and Monday, installing software that had been uploaded to Curiosity during its flight from Earth to Mars. The older software gave Curiosity basic navigational capabilities, but not enough for the rover to carry out its task: finding out whether the Red Planet has ever been habitable.

Mars surface
Martian landscape, shot by Curiosity (Image credit: NASA)

"We designed the mission from the start to be able to upgrade the software as needed for different phases of the mission," the mission's chief software engineer, Ben Cichy, said in a statement. "The flight software version Curiosity currently is using was really focused on landing the vehicle. It includes many capabilities we just don't need any more."

The new software's image processing capabilities will help Curiosity avoid obstacles as it trundles around the surface, and also let the rover use the drill and scoop at the end of its arm.

NASA's Curiosity team has been looking at the images sent back by the rover so far, to try to figure out which features are particularly worth exploring.

Once the vehicle is a bit closer to each rock feature, it can further evaluate the rock's composition with a laser device, before going over to drill out samples for analysis.

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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17 comments
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  • Earth Is The True Planet Of War, Not Mars (Curiosity Rover)

    Earth Is The True Planet Of War, Not Mars (Curiosity Rover)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sj5ju9ag2ZI
    Sara Servalis
  • Say what you like about Americans

    The world thinks we are fat, dumb and lazy. While our athletes were winning more medals at the Olympics than any other country, we also landed a robot the size of a car on a nearby planet.

    Sure, most of us sat on our couches watching that happen. But still, USA! USA!
    PepperdotNet
    • Measurements

      Yes, presumably everyone working on the project made sure they were using the same measurement systems! Impressive achievement, and the pictures so far are great.
      DJL64
    • Say what you like about Americans

      It's true, many foreigners do think of Americans as fat, dumb and lazy. What does it say about the quality of those folks, when one compares American accomplishments to those of, say, Venezuelans, or Chinese or Iranians
      Michael Merry
      • Please

        Make a distinction between ordinary people in China, Iran and Venezuela and their governments. In the case of China, also think of the Tibetan and Uighur sub-populations. And in Iran, also think of the Kurdish sub-population.

        Both Persia and China were important centers of learning and achievement in the past. China is on the rise today, including their space program.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Re: running your mouth

    Another fine example of pot calling the kettle.
    Hemlock Stones
  • Software Upgrades

    NASA gets a lot of milage out of their hardware by making the software/firmware upgradable. In the consumer market, software upgrades tend to exclude older hardware and forces people to upgrade the hardware to use the new software.

    Having a stable hardware plateform but also flexible enough to reconfigure by software is a great idea to deal with hardware obsolescence. This approach helped get more use out of a rover when a wheel locked up, they were able to disable the motor to free up the wheel by doing a change in the software.
    sboverie
  • 3G or 4G LTE?

    What kind of connection does Curiosity get? 3G or 4G LTE? Does Verizon have service even out there? Can you hear me now, Curiosity? I only get 3G at my desk in my office.

    Seriously, I am very curious how they did this.

    Look out, Google Maps, Mars edition.
    dvanderwerken
    • Radio waves

      They are surely updating Curiosity using the tried and true method of radio waves. Heard of the technology? :P The travel at virtually the speed of light in space. The software is probably wrapped up in an encrypted bitstream that's modulated into a radio wave, just my guess.
      playingwithplato@...
    • X-Band and S-Band

      If you must know.

      Those are the wireless band that reserved for scientific and militery use.
      Samic
  • Why not provide the name and mfr of the operating system used by Curiosity?

    It's Wind River's (now part of Intel) VxWorks RTOS.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • That is just the kernel

      The actual important software was developed by Lockheed Martin, NASA's JPL and a few others. And yes, that includes hardware BSPs from multiple manufacturers.

      And that is not to underestimate the importance of vxWorks ... because it is the PROVEN operating system for spacescrafts .... But the OS is such a small part of any mission ....
      wackoae
      • RE: That is just the kernel

        wackoae wrote:
        "vxWorks ... is the PROVEN operating system for spacescraft

        This, in my opinion, is worthwhile for readers to know. The operating system provides a framework for applications to run. In this case, the applications run over 230 million km (1.5 AU) away from Earth. And VxWorks is amongst the hardest of hard real-time operating systems (RTOS).

        Providing this information will also expand (and, perhaps, blow) the minds of many readers that there are important OSs beyond Windows, OS X/iOS and Linux. Although, Linux has recently made some significant improvements as a hard real-time operating system.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
  • NASA and the Red Planet

    This achievement is no light-hearted matter, we're on Mars and we're looking good on the global Space Race! If they're looking for volunteers to go there, in person, I'd like to be one of them!
    Besides, as long as there's some kind of internal wi-fi or LAN and computers to play games on, then there's no stopping that month-long Quake III Arena (or Unreal) tourney!!! LOL
    The most awesome thing about it is that Windows was not an integrated part of anything relating to this historic event! If they used a Linux-build for their base OS, they're more brave and dedicated than most would believe... Keep up the great work, NASA, you deserve it! (Cut to the scene in Ghostbusters where Dr. Venkman gives Dr. Spengler a candy bar, while discussing the group's intent to capture ghosts, telling Egon, "You earned it!" Priceless!)
    aryu.limitless@...
  • Mars

    Excellent View
    LaptopRepairDat
  • Anyone got links for *good* detailed articles on Curiosity's OS's?

    Was also wondering what kind of OS they used. Interesting is the description in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VxWorks

    It has x86-64 architecture and LP64 Data model with mostly POSIX compatibility. FS used are NFS, HRFS and DOS; even on Flash Cards (http://fixunix.com/vxworks/255958-file-system-flash-card.html ).

    Question: can the software firmware be recovered on update failures? I'm sure they got software failure disaster recovery all over the place. Would be an interesting article on more details to how it all works. Anyone got some noobish article links? (Please no infantile OS war articles).
    LLActive
  • Anyone got links for *good* detailed articles on Curiosity's OS's?

    Was also wondering what kind of OS they used. Interesting is the description in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VxWorks

    It has x86-64 architecture and LP64 Data model with mostly POSIX compatibility. FS used are NFS, HRFS and DOS; even on Flash Cards (http://fixunix.com/vxworks/255958-file-system-flash-card.html ).

    Question: can the software firmware be recovered on update failures? I'm sure they got software failure disaster recovery all over the place. Would be an interesting article on more details to how it all works. Anyone got some noobish article links? (Please no infantile OS war articles).
    LLActive