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Mars Science Laboratory


The rover's "brains"

Unlike people and animals, the rover brains are in its body. The rover computer (its "brains") is inside a module called "The Rover Compute Element" (RCE) inside the rover body. The communication interface that enables the main computer to exchange data with the rover's instruments and sensors is called a "bus". This bus is an industry standard interface bus to communicate with and control all of the rover motors, science instruments, and communication functions.

Better memory than ever

The computer contains special memory to tolerate the extreme radiation environment from space and to safeguard against power-off cycles so the programs and data will remain and will not accidentally erase when the rover shuts down at night.

On-board memory includes 256MB of DRAM and 2 GB of Flash Memory both with error detection and correction and 256kB of EEPROM. This onboard memory is roughly 8 times as capable as the one onboard the Mars Exploration Rovers.

Better "nerves" for balance and position

The rover carries an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) that provides 3-axis information on its position, which enables the rover to make precise vertical, horizontal, and side-to-side (yaw) movements. The device is used in rover navigation to support safe traverses and to estimate the degree of tilt the rover is experiencing on the surface of Mars.

Monitoring its "health"

Just like the human brain, the rover computers register signs of health, temperature, and other features that keep the rover "alive." This main control loop essentially keeps the rover "alive" by constantly checking itself to ensure that it is both able to communicate throughout the surface mission and that it remains thermally stable (not too hot or too cold) at all times. It does so by periodically checking temperatures, particularly in the rover body, and responding to potential overheating conditions, recording power generation and power storage data throughout the Mars sol (a Martian day), and scheduling and preparing for communication sessions.

Using its "computer brains" for communications

Activities such as taking pictures, driving, and operating the instruments are performed under commands transmitted in a command sequence to the rover from the flight team.

The rover generates constant engineering, housekeeping and analysis telemetry and periodic event reports that are stored for eventual transmission once the flight team requests the information from the rover.

The rover has two "computer brains" one which is normally asleep. In case of problems the other computer brain can be awakened to take over control and continue the mission.