There's a special sort of hopeful-nervousness I feel on a weekend with a challenging drive. It's how I felt this last weekend, waiting for our rover to try and execute the 11 meter drive that was supposed to get us off a large rock precluding any arm activities over the weekend. Well, we did get off the rock (yay!) but our wheels still slipped in the surrounding sand and ended the drive early in approximately the same place as Friday (see our new orientation to the large rock). A dissatisfying outcome, but still progress as we continue to chug uphill through the slippery sand and boulders.
One happy surprise after such an outcome was the ability to use our arm, unlike last Friday. The APXS and MAHLI teams quickly decided to target a spot on the laminated bedrock in front of us for DRT and named it "Aporema." The RPs were able to approve Aporema for DRT, APXS, and MAHLI activities rather quickly and the GEO team was just as efficient, delivering our plan 30 min early!
For these plans where we drive on the first sol and have early enough handover times (when the plan starts executing), we're usually able to have two arm backbones "split" around one, midday remote science backbone before driving in the afternoon and taking our post-drive imagery before sunset - which right now is about 17:19 in Gale. So this plan starts ~10:00 with the DRT and following APXS integrations on Aporema, after which the remote science block starts ~11:40 and begins with two Mastcam multispectral stereo frames of the DRT spot and a wheel scuff we made during the weekend drive. ChemCam will then target another laminated bedrock target named "Calafate" for LIBS and Mastcam will document the attempt afterwards. Around ~13:10 in the afternoon the second arm backbone starts with MAHLI images of the DRT/APXS spot from 20cm, 5cm, and 1cm away from the target. That means we should get a highest resolution of ~17 um/pixel (the width of fine/medium silt grains!) for Aporema.
After our targeted science is complete, the rover will attempt again to drive ~11 meters from this spot and get us in front of a new piece of bedrock for DRT on Wednesday. The post-drive imagery will happen ~15:30 and includes the Navcam full panorama, Hazcam images of the wheels, and a Mastcam medium-resolution mosaic of the workspace in front of the arm. And we could never forget to plan our MARDI image that happens post-sunset to document the terrain under our left-front wheel.
The second sol is much quieter and assumes we're in a new location. In the blind, Mastcam will target the sun to measure atmospheric opacity and Navcam will target the horizon to capture any changes from dust movement. ChemCam will autonomously target a LIBS spot by finding a bedrock spot that's far from any rover parts so there's no collision risk. DAN, RAD, and REMS are taking atmospheric measurements all the while, continuing to characterize the current climate in Gale.
Boulder, Meet Wheel: Sols 3848-3850
by Ashley Stroupe | Mission Ops -JPL
Earth planning date: Friday, June 2, 2023 - Today, when the team came in for planning our 3-sol weekend plan, we discovered the terrain had bitten us once again and ended the drive early. The rover's right middle wheel was perched on a rock (see the image), making it unsafe to do the arm activities and contact science we had planned. The team quickly pivoted to taking a lot more imaging, along with continuing to push through this difficult area.
On the first sol of the plan, we take a lot of imaging. We start off the day with a Navcam line-of-sight image to look at the dust in the atmosphere. Next, Mastcam takes a stereo image of the sand ripple next to the rover that has been so challenging to get through. Mastcam is also taking stereo imaging of a scour feature and a nearby fractured rock, which can tell us about how rocks weathered. ChemCam then makes a LIBS observation of the rock "Cerro Bravo," which is a piece of bedrock with nodules, followed up by a Mastcam documentation image. After a nap, the rover wakes up to take some additional afternoon atmospheric observations including a cloud observation, and some other sky imaging. After another nap, around sunset, Curiosity will wake up for a SAM EBT (a monthly maintenance activity).
On the second sol of the plan, we do some additional targeted science. We start with more atmospheric observations, including Navcam dust devil movie and suprahorizon movie and a Mastcam of the sky as well. Then, Chemcam takes a 5x1 LIBS observation of the "Aloepi" target, which is another nodular block, and a RMI mosaic which shows boulder variation and distribution on the Gediz Vallis ridge, followed up with a Mastcam documentation image of Aloepi.
After the imaging, it is time to drive. The terrain here is very challenging because it has both big rocks and lots of sand, both of which can cause significant slip (the image also shows the rover tracks behind Curiosity, and it is evident how much the rover is sinking into the sand). Some of the rocks are also quite big and we do not want to drive over them - these can cause faults on the drive or even be dangerous to the rover. The Mobility Rover Planner (RP) needed a lot of time to try to figure out how get Curiosity out of the area where the last drive faulted and back onto the safest path forward.
Just after the drive, we have a MARDI twilight image. These images can be really helpful to the RPs on tough terrain or when the drive faults because they provide an additional view under the rover, Later in the evening we do an APXS atmospheric observation, which we can do with the arm still stowed - fortunately in the stowed configuration the APXS is pointed in front of the rover, making this possible.
The third sol of plan has some additional imaging, Mastcam is taking a look at the rover deck to monitor dust accumulation. ChemCam is using AEGIS to look for interesting targets post-drive and also taking a sky observation. Lastly, Mastcam makes a solar tau observation to look at the sun and the dust in the atmosphere. After a relaxing night just waking up for communication with the orbiters to relay date, Curiosity wakes up early in the morning for some additional atmospheric observations, a Mastcam sol tau, and Navcam zenith and horizon imaging.