MISSION UPDATES | October 26, 2023

Sols 3989-3990: SAM Take Two & Preparing for Conjunction

Written by Remington Free, Operations Systems Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3983.

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3983. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Today, the MSL team picked back up with our plan to drop off a sample of rock powder drilled from Sequoia to the SAM instrument using our robotic arm. Normally, after drilling when we want to deliver sample to SAM for analysis, we first do “preconditioning” checks; essentially, to ensure SAM is in a good working state to receive the sample. Over the past weekend, when a 3-sol plan was sent to the rover, we planned for the preconditioning to happen on one of the sols. Unfortunately, the preconditioning didn’t pass all its checks, so we had to postpone the drop-off that was originally planned for Monday. However, this week we’ve had a second shot at things. On Monday, we ran SAM preconditioning again, which passed successfully this time! On the first sol of our plan, we’ll finally get to deliver our sample to SAM for analysis. The photo above is of the body of the rover – you can see two inlet covers for SAM in front, and one for the CheMin instrument at the back. These covers open and close as we deliver sample to the instruments using the robotic arm.

We’re always excited to execute a new solid sample analysis activity. This activity involves a pyrolysis measurement where we heat the sample up to near 1000 degrees Celsius, and the resulting gas is analyzed for composition. On this sol, we’ll also have a block of science activities, which include optical depth measurements using Mastcam and LIBS observations of our “Dragon Tooth” target using ChemCam. On the second and final sol of the plan, we will run another science block, which includes NCAM dust devil and cloud movies, multiple Mastcam observations, and another LIBS observation of “The Sphinx” target using ChemCam.

As part of this plan, we are also sending up conjunction plans to the rover. Conjunction is a period of time where Mars, the Sun, and the Earth are all in alignment – but because the Sun is blocking Mars from us, we can’t actually communicate with any of our Mars missions at all! This year, conjunction will occur for several weeks during November. Our team builds plans to keep the rover safe and productive by itself while we’re waiting for communication to resume, which were uplinked onboard the rover as part of today’s plan. Though we aren’t quite into conjunction yet, it’s always best to be prepared!