NASA's Curiosity Rover Wheels Get A Huge Upgrade

Posted: Jul 1 2017, 4:02pm CDT | by , Updated: Jul 1 2017, 4:12pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA's Curiosity Rover Wheels Gets a Huge Upgrade
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

New algorithm will adjust the speed of Mars Curiosity rover's wheels and protect them from damage

The team operating NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has just completed a software upgrade on the robotic vehicle. The new software will adjust the speed of rover’s wheels depending on the surface it navigates and prevent them from falling apart as the rover continues its journey.

Mars is a hostile place with complex, uneven terrain and NASA’s Curiosity rover is really struggling there. It has started to suffer the effects of an extended stay on Mars.

Curiosity rover has a camera attached to its arm that enables it to take images of its wheels after regular intervals. By using the images, Curiosity team gets a close looks at the wheels and assesses the damage done to them. The team found several holes on the rover's left middle wheel during a routine check in March 2017.

Wheel damage is not a new thing; it's an ongoing sort of phenomenon that every vehicle experiences over time and Curiosity rover is no exception to that. Curiosity rover’s wheel damage worsened significantly during 2013 as it was crossing an area near the Mount Sharp studded with sharp rocks. When rover drives on an even surface, its wheels turn at the same speed. But the real problem starts when wheels go over an uneven, rocky surface and their grip on the terrain changes significantly. The recent software upgrade is intended to control this change in grip or traction

"If it's a pointed rock, it's more likely to penetrate the skin between the wheel grousers," said Art Rankin from NASA JPL, who led uploading of the traction control software. "The wheel wear has been cause for concern, and although we estimate they have years of life still in them, we do want to reduce that wear whenever possible to extend the life of the wheels."

Curiosity rover has six wheels that are made up of soild aluminum. Each of its wheels is about 20 inches in diameter and 16 inches wide. Though the wheels are designed for climbing rocks and enduring extreme conditions, they are now facing extensive wear and tear and if they are not protected from further damage, the rover may not able to explore all destinations planned for the mission to Mars. Traction control software could help address this problem. The software was uploaded to the rover on Mars in March after 18 months of testing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The software uses real-time data to adjust each wheel's speed and figures out their contact points. Then, calculations determine the correct speed to avoid slippage and improve the rover's traction.

This is the fifth upgrade for the Curiosity rover since it landed Mars surface in August 2012. If everything goes to plan, Curiosity will complete all of its assigned tasks and offer more than expected. The rover is currently climbing to sequentially higher and younger layers of lower Mount Sharp to investigate how its ancient environment changed over time.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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