Curiosity Rover’s Wheels Are Starting To Break Apart

Posted: Mar 22 2017, 9:35am CDT | by , Updated: Mar 22 2017, 9:43am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Curiosity Rover’s Wheels are Starting to Break Apart
Holes and tears in NASA's Mars Curiosity rover. Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA image shows latest wear and tear on Mars rover as it continues its journey

After spending around five years and travelling nearly 10 miles, the wheels of Mars Curiosity rover are starting to crack and fall apart.

NASA's Mars rover team that uses a camera attached on the rover's arm to check the state of the wheels at routine intervals has found two small holes on the rover's left middle wheel during the recent routine check.

The holes were spotted in the wheel's raised treads, known as grousers, on March 19 image, suggesting that the punchers are fresh and occurred after the last check on January 27.

"This is an expected part of the life cycle of the wheels." Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada said.

The 1-ton robotic rover has six aluminum wheels. Each wheel is about 20 inches in diameter and 16 inches wide and is designed to withstand extreme environments in outer space. But the rover has accumulated quite a lot of wheel damage since touching down Martian surface in 2012 and the damage appears to have accelerated as it continues to navigate more complex, rocky terrain.

Curiosity wheels also have 19 zigzag-shaped treads that extend about a quarter inch outward from the skin of each wheel. The treads or grousers bear much of the rover's weight and provide most of the traction over rugged terrain.

NASA’s Curiosity rover team is keeping a close eye on these grousers as they believe when the three grousers on a wheel have broken; the wheel has reached about 60 percent of its life. But they also say that current condition of the wheels will have no effect on the rover’s ability to traverse Martian surface.

“All six wheels have more than enough working lifespan remaining to get the vehicle to all destinations planned for the mission," said Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "While not unexpected, this damage is the first sign that the left middle wheel is nearing a wheel-wear milestone.”

Curiosity has been working on Mars surface since early August 2012. The rover reached the base of Mount Sharp in 2014 and since then it has been approaching towards higher levers of the mountain. As rover examines higher and younger layers, it raises concern that driving on them could become more damaging to Curiosity's wheels.

Curiosity is currently examining sand dunes on Murray formation. Planned destinations ahead include the hematite-containing "Vera Rubin Ridge," and the geological units above it.

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