Curiosity Rolls Ahead On Mars Following Software Upgrade - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Mobile
News
8/31/2012
10:23 AM
50%
50%

Curiosity Rolls Ahead On Mars Following Software Upgrade

NASA engineers upgrade software on Curiosity to let six-wheeled vehicle cruise longer distances on surface of Mars and make use of robotic arm.

NASA Curiosity Visual Tour: Mars, Revealed
NASA Curiosity Visual Tour: Mars, Revealed
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
NASA's Curiosity rover made its fourth trek on Aug. 30, a short 70-foot drive on its way to a destination on Mars where it will conduct science experiments using its drill and other instruments.

Curiosity landed on Mars on Aug. 5 (Pacific time), and the six-wheeled vehicle was made ready to roll after NASA engineers upgraded its on-board flight software with a new version, release 10, that's optimized for traveling long distances and making use of Curiosity's robotic arm. Curiosity's R9 software, the ninth full upgrade since the program's inception, was oriented to flight and landing control.

"While on cruise to Mars, we updated the software in June, and we updated the surface software right when it landed," said Benjamin Cichy, chief software engineer for the Curiosity rover at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Written on Linux-based workstations, Curiosity' software runs on Wind River's VxWorks real-time operating system. The primary development environment is the Wind River Workbench. Software upgrades are beamed up to the rover through a series of signals sent from giant antennas in California, Spain, and Australia to orbiters circling Mars and then to the vehicle itself.

[ Learn more about the mission. Read Curiosity Lands On Mars: 10 Amazing Facts. ]

R9 optimized the vehicle for landing, including the so-called "seven minutes of terror" when it plummeted through Mars' atmosphere. During that phase, the software executed some 300 autonomous actions, including firing 76 pyrotechnic devices that caused the vehicle to transition through 6 different configurations (cruise, entry, parachute, powered descent, sky crane, and rover). In addition to the pyrotechnic devices, the software managed eight descent thrusters and eight landing engines.

Curiosity's software allows NASA engineers to adapt the vehicle to the situation at hand, a requirement when exploring Mars' unknown terrain. "We're constantly looking at how the rover is performing," Cichy said. "When we landed on Mars, we didn't know what the surface was going to be like."

The R10 software "really unlocks the remaining potential" of the vehicle, Cichy said. The upgrade's capabilities help control the Rover's robotic arm, drill, and the rest of the system the enables the rover to collect and analyze rock samples in its on-board laboratories. While R9 included the basic capability to move the rover, R10 allows it to drive long distances.

The MSL team is working on R11, which should be complete in the next three months. That version will bring improvements to how the rover maneuvers and uses its tools. "With R11, it will really be able to upgrade to some advanced driving," Cichy said.

Navid Dehghani, ground systems manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said data management is an ongoing challenge. The MSL team has been transmitting a lot of data via a message bus (similar to the message bus in an enterprise IT environment) and "we have to really worry about how much data we were sending through the bus and tailor our messages so we don't overwhelm the whole system," he said.

The project utilizes a new MySQL-based system to process the large amount of raw and complex data that comes in from Curiosity. Called the Mission Data Processing and Control System (MPCS), it interfaces to NASA's Deep Space Network and processes data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and other in-orbit systems. MPCS produces a tailored view of the data that is used by other flight operations teams, such as information on the power system.

The mission is slated to last one Mars year, the equivalent to two Earth years. "We're always going to keep learning," Cichy said. "It's an amazing piece of software."

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Solenoid
50%
50%
Solenoid,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/4/2012 | 8:29:15 PM
re: Curiosity Rolls Ahead On Mars Following Software Upgrade
I saw Curiosity's Facebook (or was it Twitter) status update this weekend: "Where I'm going, we don't need roads."

I really appreciate the public outlet for Curiosity, including light-hearted wit and humor.
dbtinc
50%
50%
dbtinc,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/4/2012 | 12:35:03 PM
re: Curiosity Rolls Ahead On Mars Following Software Upgrade
Hmmm, no Windows 7 or 8 on board, huh?
News
IT Spending Forecast: Unfortunately, It's Going to Hurt
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  5/15/2020
Commentary
Helping Developers and Enterprises Answer the Skills Dilemma
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  5/19/2020
Slideshows
Top 10 Programming Languages in Demand Right Now
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  4/28/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
The State of IT & Cybersecurity Operations 2020
The State of IT & Cybersecurity Operations 2020
Download this report from InformationWeek, in partnership with Dark Reading, to learn more about how today's IT operations teams work with cybersecurity operations, what technologies they are using, and how they communicate and share responsibility--or create risk by failing to do so. Get it now!
Video
Current Issue
Key to Cloud Success: The Right Management
This IT Trend highlights some of the steps IT teams can take to keep their cloud environments running in a safe, efficient manner.
Slideshows
Flash Poll