Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Mars NASA Robotics Hardware

Mars Rover Down? Spirit Stays Silent 91

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the sleep-well-good-sir dept.
astroengine writes "One year after NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit stopped communicating with Earth, mission managers have announced that they will give the stranded rover one more month to send a signal before they scale back the search. But things aren't looking good. In the words of JPL-based Mars rover driver Scott Maxwell, 'Spirit was so close to us, just a year ago. Snap your fingers, and she's a hundred million miles distant and we can't even prove she's alive.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Mars Rover Down? Spirit Stays Silent

Comments Filter:
  • Oblig (Score:4, Funny)

    by ArAgost (853804) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @08:55AM (#35665464) Homepage
    Obligatory xkcd reference: http://xkcd.com/695/ [xkcd.com]
  • Why this waiting for a month or year on earth calendars?

    I know spirit has a direct link to earth. Not relaying thru an orbiter on Mars or whatever. So received SNR on BOTH sides is gonna vary by a wee bit as our planets orbit, from pretty darn close to very far away.

    So, if the closest approach to mars is around jan 2010, march 2012, etc, why not try to communicate then, at highest signal levels, rather than fooling around now or next month? In fact it would seem that "right now" is pretty close to orbita

    • Martian winter powered down the rover as it wasn't getting enough sunlight to run. They waited until the last few weeks because that's when peak sunlight hit the collectors again at its last position. They'll give it another month just in case it needs to warm up some more, but things aren't looking good.
      • by vlm (69642)

        OK so they're optimizing for peak solar electrical power and peak outside air temp, which unfortunately coincides with (nearly) peak RF path loss. Makes sense if the problem is assumed to be temp related.

        • I think the rover is either programmed to hibernate for a certain period of time during low power situations or the controllers tell it to hibernate. During the winters the rovers don't get enough sun on some days to keep their heaters running much less attempting to communicate. So it just waits and tries to conserve energy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's pretty simple. We are now moving into the Martian summer for the southern hemisphere. Spirit went quiet because of the Martian winter at her location, when it got colder and less sunlight per unit area was falling, thus, not enough energy to keep warm and keep operating. They transmitted/received off and on ever since losing communication, but the best chance was waiting until about this time because she should be warming up, getting more sun, and hopefully waking up as peak solar output at the site

    • As I recall, they put Spirit into hibernation for the Martian winter. I suppose they left it off all this time to charge the batteries as much as they could. I assume the issue isn't signal strength- it's a lack of power in the rover to pick up the signal and respond to it.

      Also, Wikipedia disagrees with you about the communications.

      The rovers also use the low-gain antennas to communicate with spacecraft orbiting Mars, the Mars Odyssey and (before its failure) the Mars Global Surveyor. The orbiters relay data from and to Earth; most data to Earth is relayed through Odyssey. The orbiters are closer to the rovers than the antennas on Earth, and have a view of Earth for much longer than the rovers.

      Source [wikipedia.org]

      • As I recall, they put Spirit into hibernation for the Martian winter.

        Not quite. Spirit put itself into hibernation at the start of the martian winter with the lower light levels and dust buildup on her solar panels. She's yet to come out of this hibernation (and may never)

      • by vlm (69642)

        Ugh, wikipedia has at least two articles...

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirit_rover#Design_and_construction [wikipedia.org]

        "Communications depends on an omnidirectional low-gain antenna communicating at a low data rate and a steerable high-gain antenna, both in direct contact with Earth. A low gain antenna is also used to relay data to spacecraft orbiting Mars."

        You know what would improve wikipedia, a third article on the same vehicle. How bout a MER-A article with a third separate writeup.

    • by Wiarumas (919682)
      If I had to guess, I'd say the most simple answer is the correct one: extending a budget because Earth time is inconvienent would not pass through the higher ups, and also because by the time 2012 rolls around, it will be too late (its probably half buried in ice and sand).
    • by gclef (96311)

      One word: money. There's a price to keeping the hardware + people ready & waiting. They probably don't have the money to wait much longer.

    • by Kjella (173770) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @09:30AM (#35665858) Homepage

      The most probable explaination is that Spirit died last Martian winter. The hope was that it was still alive but in deep hibernation mode and would eventually get enough power surplus to charge its batteries and reconnect with Earth. Now we're at peak power generation but Mars is still heating up a bit - just like in the northern hemisphere the summer solistice is in june but july/august are the warmest months. Normally it should have reconnected long before that, but if say the solar panels were partially damaged it could take this long for it to gather enough power. It's been a slim hope and it's getting even slimmer, pretty soon it's time to write off that possibility completely.

  • They did only design the Mars Rovers with a six month operational life. That they lasted as long as they have was extremely lucky.

    • Re:Good run (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sonny Yatsen (603655) * on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @09:08AM (#35665598) Journal

      That's not luck, that's great engineering and great piloting on the part of NASA.

      • Re:Good run (Score:4, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @09:18AM (#35665718)

        It's also a testament to the power of the Ubuntu operating system that ran all of Spirit's vital functions. I've spoken to a few insiders at NASA and they are all extremely positive about using Ubuntu in future missions, in fact the only complaint they had was that the Compiz compositor used up too much power (and was one of the first things to be disabeld should Spirit's batteries go low on power).

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Except the time when Wolowitz drove it into a ditch.

    • They did only design the Mars Rovers with a six month operational life. That they lasted as long as they have was extremely lucky.

      Or it could be they just had a good PR campaign...6 month designed operational life, I though I heard it was only 3? What does that even mean from a design standpoint? You can guess, but nobody knows for sure except them and the marketing dept. I say good job there, cause unfortunately in today's world NASA needs good PR.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        Or it could be they just had a good PR campaign...6 month designed operational life, I though I heard it was only 3? What does that even mean from a design standpoint? You can guess, but nobody knows for sure except them and the marketing dept. I say good job there, cause unfortunately in today's world NASA needs good PR.

        Bullshit. Everyone paying attention knows.

        The original 90 mission time frame was always about exactly one thing: The estimated amount of time before dust buildup on the solar panels would prevent them from receiving enough sunlight to power the rover.

        What does that mean from a design standpoint? It means they had to decide whether to try to make some solar-panel-cleaning mechanism and pay the cost in money, weight, and chance of failure, or to just let the rovers die. They went with die.

        Everything else

    • It was just the solar array they had concerns about. Everything else was supposed to last the ages they have, but engineers were just unsure about the apparatus providing power. They turned out to be terribly wrong in their expectations and the panels performed admirably for years.

      • It wasn't the arrays per se but the dust. NASA knew from previous missions that dust would coat the arrays over time and make them less efficient. Engineers looked at ways to remove the dust which is very clingy due to electrostatic forces. After factoring mission parameters, they decided it wasn't worth the cost. Now cost meant to them more than money. Remember there are weight and space limitations. To add a system to remove dust, they might have had to remove an instrument or two and there was no g
    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      I think that the rovers have been exceeding the expectations with a good margin. A few design flaws may have been discovered - like the stuck wheel - but they did provide a lot more data than the mission plans expected.

      The experience gained from this mission can be used for upcoming missions. Even if those missions aren't going to Mars they will benefit from this.

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      To be clear, it was a not a 3 month operational life. It was a 3-month primary mission.

      Primary mission means that the team is in charge of ensuring the success of that to a very high probability. Everyone expects extended missions at this point, and include fuel in the budget (for orbiters, doesn't apply to rovers) for a very long extended missions. However, more risk is allowed in extended mission, allowing reduced costs. I'm currently working the next Mars orbiter, and while our primary mission goes f

  • Since from a visual point of view spirit was in a far more interesting area with hills and varied lanscape. Opportunity is in the middle of a vast desert with just the odd crater to break things up.

    • by gman003 (1693318)
      That "vast desert" is, in case you forgot, on Mars. That's still a thousand times more interesting than any surface feature on Earth. Maybe the novelty will wear off once we start colonizing, but until then, it's a desert on a different freaking planet, making it well worth studying.
      • by Viol8 (599362)

        "That's still a thousand times more interesting than any surface feature on Earth."

        Speak for yourself.

      • by MSesow (1256108)
        Although I don't disagree with you that having a rover anywhere on Mars is great, with so much to see, I must contest the idea that it is more interesting than any surface feature on Earth - Mars may be less understood, but I can go out into a field next to my apartment and entertain myself for an hour or two just by looking at the world. Bugs or plants I have never seen or that are odd in some way, the weather around me, things other people might be doing, etc. They are just all somewhat less remarkable
    • by SharpFang (651121) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @11:54AM (#35667482) Homepage Journal

      We pity malfunctioning Spirit, pity it's not Opportunity. NO.

      Goddamnit, Spirit was a row of failures from day one, an epic struggle but a struggle nevertheless.

      Meanwhile, Opportunity analyzed some nearby craters, climbed a hill, found one HUGE crater and began moving there.

      It will reach it around 2015.

      Yep, NASA made plans of some decade long trip for it, a couple years ago. Not "will it respond in next month?" style hope, but "Will it last 10 years more?" hope. Totally awesome and incredible.

      Damn you, nothing Spirit was close to compares to the crater Opportunity tries to reach.

  • by bye (87770)

    Spirit is doing just fine on Sol 792. Just four days ago one of the rover drivers blogged this:

    "The good news is, we have data from Spirit at last! And a lot of it, too -- a whopping 110 Mbits!" [blogspot.com]

    Here are some pictures Spirit has taken recently. [nasa.gov]

    Is this sloppy Slashdot reporting, or an early April's Fool joke?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'd be happy to volunteer my ex-wife to be launched to Mars to look for the missing rover. I understand and fully accept the risks of the mission.
  • clearly spirit has just watched the tao of steve one too many times.

  • NASA got its money's worth for a change
  • We designed Spirit and Opportunity to last 90 days each. We've got one probably dead at just over 7 full years, and another fully healthy one after that same time. They were relatively cheap, too. These damn things WORK. NASA needs to mass-produce about 100 more of these, and get them to every solid surface in this solar system. If you know something's technologically sound, use it everywhere you can. Send them to all Saturn/Jupiter's solid moons, Mercury, Pluto, any asteroids who come near, the moon, Arkan
    • by tnk1 (899206)

      Well, they probably wouldn't do well on rocks without atmospheres. They're not really designed for the extreme temp changes you'd get without an atmosphere or the extreme cold you'd get in the outer Solar System.

      That said, we probably should try and launch a few more of them. Except to Europa, of course. Attempt no landings there.

      • You could make minor mods to them depending on where you're sending them. Going to Hoth? Wrap it in some insulation. Tattooine? Slap a water-cooling kit like you'd find in a PC on it, or some refrigerator coils. Really, places with atmosphere is all we really ought to care about - can't be any life anywhere else - unless you're just looking for a good place to set up a robotic mining colony to get some unobtanium.
        • by eriqk (1902450)

          Tattooine? Slap a water-cooling kit like you'd find in a PC on it, or some refrigerator coils.

          Do not send it to Tattione. It will be sabotaged by an R2 unit.

    • NASA needs to mass-produce about 100 more of these, and get them to every solid surface in this solar system.

      Well, they'd never reach 99% of the solid surfaces in the Solar system intact - they'd crash because there was either no atmosphere or insufficient atmosphere for their parachutes to function. If you did modify them to not require parachutes, they'd still fail within seconds of landing as they froze or boiled to death in temperatures well outside those they're designed to handle. So in order for yo

      • 1. Again, modify the "base model" slightly for various environments. Add insulation, cooling, shock absorbers, bigger treads, etc. as needed. Very minor customizations that are roughly the equivalent of getting your Scion xB with a sunroof or not.

        2. Develop a simple delivery vehicle that includes three pieces: the rover itself, a reverse-thrust delivery pod (which provides a heat shield for atmospheric planets, and reverse-thrusters to slow it to a soft landing on non-atmospheric ones), and a module that se

        • Again, modify the "base model" slightly for various environments. Add insulation, cooling, shock absorbers, bigger treads, etc. as needed. Very minor customizations that are roughly the equivalent of getting your Scion xB with a sunroof or not.

          No. Very *major* customizations, the equivalent of which there isn't in ordering a car from the dealer.

          Develop a simple delivery vehicle that includes three pieces: the rover itself, a reverse-thrust delivery pod (which provides a heat shield for atmospheric

  • The obvious question, "How long has it been since it landed?" wasn't answered by TFA. It originally landed January 4, 2004 and has been doing research for nearly 7 and a quarter years.
  • To visit http://marsandme.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com] for a wonderful perspective from Scott on the regular dealings of being a Mars rover driver.

  • http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/profile-vandi-verma.html [pbs.org]

    Pretty much a geek dreamboat; too bad she's married (and it wasn't even arranged).

    • by PPH (736903)
      Driving Spirit for 5 years before getting stuck. Can I have her give my wife lessons?
    • by c6gunner (950153)

      Pretty much a geek dreamboat

      Alien-looking fingers and a chin that would make Superman jealous. Yeah, I guess in a very technical sense you're completely right ...

      • She doesn't look like Pamela Anderson, so that makes it OK to slag her, right?

        Sucks to be you!

        • by c6gunner (950153)

          She doesn't look like Pamela Anderson, so that makes it OK to slag her, right?

          She look-a-like-a-man!

          Sucks to be you!

          Because I refuse to play the "is-it-a-tranny?" game? No, I'm pretty happy here. But thanks for your concern!

  • But maybe he shouldn't have snaped his f**king fingers eh?
  • I repeat, SHE?

    Methinks NASA engineers have too much time on their hands.

"Pull the trigger and you're garbage." -- Lady Blue

Working...