MISSION UPDATES | March 1, 2023

Sols 3757-3758: Reacting To External Forces

Written by Elena Amador-French, Science Operations Coordinator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3755.

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3755. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

One of my favorite parts of mission operations is working with colleagues to react quickly to new information, both from the rover and from our ground systems on Earth. Yesterday’s 1 sol plan was developed in near record time (really, we were finished in 4 hours and 6 minutes whereas on average it takes us anywhere from 6-7 hours!), this was in part due to the low complexity activities we had in the plan. However, due to an issue at the Deep Space Network (DSN) station we were meant to use, we were not able to uplink that plan to Mars. And that same station would continue to be “down” for today’s 2 sol plan. This means we did miss one sol’s worth of activities on Mars and were at risk this morning of losing another 2 sols worth of activities.

While not ideal, this presents a, dare I say it, fun puzzle for us to solve. As science operations coordinator, my first task was to query what critical activities did not execute in the 3756 plan and what critical activities are needed before Friday to keep us chugging along in the Tapo Caparo drill campaign. With those observations in hand, I worked with a group of engineers at JPL to consider what options we had available to us today. This meant working closely with our communications planning engineers that understand the availability of other DSN stations and orbiters that can be used as relays, our engineering uplink leads that understand what time critical data arrive on Earth and Mars, and our tactical uplink lead engineers that know how to quickly rebuild our skeleton plans to ensure a smooth operation.

In conclusion, our communications planning engineers were able to negotiate with other missions and the DSN to uplink today’s plan through a different station. So today’s planning then resumed fairly normally with a 2 sol plan that both recovered activities that did not execute on 3756 and new activities that will ensure a timely continuation of our drill campaign. It took many people to make this happen this morning, and it’s the best part of operations!

All activities planned in 3756 were brought back into today’s plan (see yesterday’s blog for a description). In coordination with the APXS atmospheric observation, today we also used ChemCam’s passive mode to observe the composition of the sky to compare with APXS – these two observations will provide a complementary view.

As noted in yesterday’s blog, this morning we received our mineralogical results from the CheMin XRD instrument – our first taste of the composition of Tapo Caparo. The results were very interesting to the team, and they requested a second analysis (of the same sample) in today’s plan. This additional integration builds up the peaks that make up an XRD observation to allow a more precise declaration of the mineralogy.

In preparation for delivering drilled sample to our second internal laboratory, SAM, we also performed a preconditioning activity that prepares a sample cup to be used for future experiments, notionally scheduled for this weekend.

What a fun day to do rover operations!