The next Mars rover

Roamy here. Curiosity, a.k.a. the Mars Science Laboratory, will be launched sometime in late November or early December. XBrad and smart commenters like Quartermaster have been talking about evolutionary rather than revolutionary design changes. I thought this was an excellent picture, showing the evolution of the Mars rovers.

The little one in front is a model of the Mars Pathfinder rover named Sojourner. Sojourner was launched in 1996; you may remember it landing on Mars on July 4, 1997. Looks like a RC car compared to the others.

The left rover is a Mars Exploration Rover model. These are the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which were launched in 2003 and landed on Mars in 2004. A recently released video shows the 13-mile journey between Victoria Crater and Endeavour Crater, which took 3 years for the rover to travel.


The monster rover on the right is the Mars Science Laboratory. It looks like a Hummer compared to the others, but it’s actually the size of a Mini Cooper and weighs nearly a ton. It will land using an aeroshell, 8 rocket thrusters, and a parachute capable of being deployed at Mach 2.2, rather than airbags. I did a very small amount of work on the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera.

More on all the scientific instruments as we get closer to launch.

Wheel comparison for Sojourner, Spirit, and Curiosity

Ready to roll!

4 thoughts on “The next Mars rover”

  1. Other than knowing he was an Infantryman and the son of a Nasal Radiator, I don’t know Brad’s background. By profession, I’m an Engineer (civil type with major inclusions of Electrical Engineering, where I started before I was seriously injured in ’83, and upper division work in Physics). I raised a kid to be an Electrical Engineer, and my 33 yo “boy” holds a MSEE (control systems) and works at the Lake City Ammo Plant near Kansas City.

    So, yes, I believe in evolutionary changes in existing designs to yield greater capability down the road. Make small changes/improvements, then get those to the troops while you work on the even better stuff.

    On occasion, revolution happens. A very good example of that in our lifetime is GPS (NAVSTAR). The foundation was laid by the Navy’s TRANSIT system which led to the time transfer idea that gave us GPS. I used TRANSIT when I was on active duty on Courtney (one of teh early installations made because of the hydrophone array we towed that also laid the foundation for the later TASS system, which led to the SOSUS line later). TRANSIT was a very good system. My Chief and played with it (he was as much of a curious cat as I was) and got fixes with it while I was standing an Anchor watch in Augusta Bay, Sicily. The greatest difference between the Anchor fixes I took with the Alidade on the bridge wing and TRANSIT was about 3 feet. They were usually closer than that. You could get sub-foot with TRANSIT after about 3 days. TRANSIT was a doppler system although the satellite was also tied to a clock that we could use to compare chronometers with as well.

    GPS , OTOH, uses the time difference between the satellite broadcast, and the arrival at the target receiver to yield a fix. With a single freq receiver, you can get within 20 feet very quickly, and after about an hour you can get within 1 centimeter reliably. It can be done in 20 minutes with dual freq receivers because you can model the ionosphere quickly because of the difference in propagation time between the two frequencies.

    GPS revolutionized Geodetic Surveying. No one does triangulation anymore because you could repeat the entire first order network in a matter of 6 months, and most of that time is just spent managing equipment. It would take a two weeks to set up for a 6 station triangulation observation. The entire 1st order network consists of thousands of stations and took 150 years to complete.

    But, GPS was not possible without the smaller step taken with Transit. Conceptually, it is evolutionary, but the impact was revolutionary.

    And, no, he doesn’t get an employee discount to my knowledge.

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