Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Three Cheers for Opportunity! 3,000 Sols and Counting...

The above image shows the travels of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity along the north end of Cape York on the rim of Endeavour Crater. The top-most point represents the current location of the rover. Image Credit: NASA 

On Monday, July 2nd, NASA's Opportunity rover celebrated its 3,000th Sol on the planet Mars. A Sol is mean solar day on the Red Planet, which lasts 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds. Opportunity is continuing to explore the north end of Cape York on the rim of Endeavour Crater. Specifically, the transition layer between Cape York and Meridiani Planum. 

The data transmission rate from Opportunity to Earth is returning to its normal frequency. Until recently, Opportunity's Ultra High Frequency relay had been limited to just two relay passes per week, using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). You see, all surface transmissions must be relayed through the satellites in Mars orbit. Opportunity had been limited to MRO because the Mars Odyssey orbiter was out of service for a few weeks. Since Odyssey has been back up and running, Opportunity has had data downlinks on both Sols 2995 and 2996 (June 27th and 28th). 

Opportunity's work may seem tedious and tiresome, but Opportunity was built for it, and does it without complaining. For example, on Sol 2990 (June 21st, 2012), Opportunity began taking in-situ measurements, using the Microscopic Imager (MI) and Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS), on a rock named "Grasberg." On Sol 2992 (June 24th, 2012), Opportunity analyzed a slightly offset target called "Grasberg 2." And finally, on Sol 2995 (June 27th, 2012), the original Grasberg target was brushed by Opportunity using its Rock Abrasion Tool, in preparation for further MI and APXS analysis.

Opportunity's solar array has not had any recent "cleaning events" (translation: wind blows dust off the solar panels to increase electricity generation). Even so, Opportunity continues to do well. But the mission team would not mind a few good breezes to clean off the solar array a bit more. As of June 20th, Opportunity had traveled over 21.43 miles (34,491.99 meters). And so it goes... 

And now, the mission particulars... 

The rover Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, completed their three-month prime missions on Mars in April 2004. Both rovers continued for years of bonus, extended missions. Both have made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life. Spirit stopped communicating in 2010. Since landing in the Meridiani region of Mars in January 2004, Opportunity has driven 21.4 miles (34.4 kilometers). 

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. 

To lean more about the planet Mars and more about NASA's Exploring Mars Program, visit these URLs: and .

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