Saturday, June 30, 2012

New and updates — and stirring the pot of rumors

How is Opportunity doing? Well… good. Prett-ay good.

Daily Solar Power Is Off the Hizzay

While I idly watch, MER-B's power is shooting through the roof: 600 Watt-hours* predicted. As a reference, we were soaking in about 250 W-hours at the dead of Martian winter (middle of March here on Earth). Tau — a measure of atmospheric opacity — is at an all-time mission low (which means clear skies), and we've had several significant dust cleaning events (which means clean solar arrays). This increase in power is all in spite of the now low northerly tilts that Opportunity is at — you know, the thing that kept her alive in the depths of winter.

If I were so inclined to get in trouble, I'd post the watt-hours plot our Power team puts together. But I'm not so inclined! For that, we'll have to follow our glorious mission manager updates.

Opportunity's Location, Recent Activities, and Future Plans

Opportunity has been skirting the rim of the Cape York geological feature since she departed from her winter parking in the northern havens:

There's been a discovery of new Gypsum (errr, presumably Gypsum) veins:

And we've found a nice juicy spot for a RAT hole — a target named "Grasberg":

Unfortunately, the Mars Odyssey (ODY) spacecraft went into "Safe Mode" a few weeks ago. MER has always been incredibly reliant on ODY for data downlink via the relay chain, and when ODY goes down, MER has to stand down for a few sols. MRO also provides good relay support, but much more rarely than ODY. We have to schedule "passes" with these spacecraft strategically, i.e. weeks ahead of time, so that their teams can piece together their multi-week set of commands appropriately to handle the relay supports. Changing them tactically, i.e., the day of the relay pass or otherwise shortly before then, is a difficult process and things like geometry and spacecraft sequence engineering constraints can bite us.

There is a lot of so-called unsent data on board Opportunity that prevents the team from scheduling data-intense activities (like hi-res Pancams, MIs, or mobility data). As such the work on Grasberg and the surrounding territory is slow.

For the future: We plan to cross the skirt of Cape York to the north to look at the transitional layers (do I sound like a geologist yet?) thereon. Then, southward back from whence we came — to the first entrance into the Endeavour Crater on the south side of Cape York, and then further sound to Cape Tribulation. Betcha we get there before next Martian winter — those RPs are itching to drive the heck out of Oppy, and they're damned good at it, too.

A Mission Milestone -- Sol 3000 
According to my highly technical (read: I cheated and used SPICE again) analysis, Opportunity will hit Sol 3000 at 2012 JUL 02 01:51:32.572 UTC, or 2012 JUL 01 18:51:32.572 PDT.

Holy… what? Seems about right: I started work on the MER project nearabouts sol 2350, which was nearabouts July 2010. 

At the moment I'm not grasping what this really means… I haven't had the time to let it soak in yet. It's just unreal

Rest assured, the MER team is having a big get-together brunch this weekend to celebrate.

Allow me to stir the rumor mill!

I've received several emails asking me about my rumored move away from MER to the Mars Science Lab (MSL) project at JPL. Let me settle all the rumors now: Confirmed. In fact, I left the MER project about two months ago.

Much as I loved working on the MER program, opportunity (pun not intended) awaited me on MSL. It was not a decision that I made without a lot of careful thought — I sat around for a few months working up to actually making the decision. 

There are several good bits to come out of this move, however:

1) I have no plans to discontinue this blog. I never did! MER impacted me in a way that I'll never forget. I'm always going to be plugged into Oppy's updates. She is quickly approaching the off-earth traverse distance record and I want to be blogging about it. No question about it.

2) A large portion of the MSL tactical uplink team comes from MER. ("Gee, you know, it would be prudent of us to hire people who have done all this before…") I see a lot of familiar names and I'm finally meeting some past "MER Legends." Granted, MSL is a new kind of beast, very very unlike MER, but the overarching process of getting 1's and 0's to her is the same. Experience counts.

3) I don't have to move offices! MSL owns floors 4 and 6 of building 264 at JPL, and MER (along with Odyssey and MRO) takes up floor 5. So I still get the chance to swing down to say hello to the MER folks every now and then. In fact I still use the coffee machine in their break room, because if I'm ever going to drink anybody's office-coffee-club coffee, I'm going to drink MER's. **

And several unfortunate ones:

1) I have less time to stay focused on generating consistent, reliable posts here. I'm working crazy hours and will soon be transitioning to "Mars time" shift schedules when we land on Sunday August 5th. POWER THROUGH!

2) I can't blog about MSL, at least not in the capacity that I'm granted here by the PR folks at JPL. 


I've received some good, insightful comments about the Radio Science posts (here and here). I responded with a little too much brevity; and the comments pointed out that I lacked a sense of clarity in the posts! Good catches all a round.

I plan on some supplemental pieces on Radio Science whenever the results go fully public.


*Watt-hours = Energy. Watts are energy (specifically, Joules) per unit time; multiply by a time unit and you get Joules back. You may be asking, "Why not just say 'joules', then?" If we were to express it as Joules — Watt-seconds — we would have these huge numbers that are hard to grasp. Watt-hours are a convenient (though inconsistent!) way of bringing a numb back down to something the human brain to contextualize. It's a colloquial engineering term.
**They've got this old school diner coffee machine that is meant to stay on 24 hours a day; oh boy have I been using it. Late nights on MSL have caused me to leave these silly notes next to the MER coffee machine — something to the effect of "LEAVE ON FOR MATT, 06/29/12 evening" — so nobody turns off my caffeine supply. Sometimes, on top of my note someone from MER will leave me donuts. I love these people…

No comments: