Mars Curiosity Reconnaissance

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Mars Curiosity Reconnaissance Robot …

If one day we watch a football match played on the rusty surface of the red planet with our grandchildren, we will owe it to the explorer robot Curiosity, who is now working for us. This curious robot, which examines the climate and geology of the planet in the Gale Crater on our neighbor Mars, researches life and water availability on Mars and creates an environment for us to make great discoveries.

Get to Know the Explorer Robot Closer

Curiosity is the most ambitious Mars mission ever performed in NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory. Our robot investigates whether different creatures live on the red planet and whether the planet is suitable for human life, and it constantly sends us information about the Martian climate and surface.

Curiosity is about the size of a small car. To be able to make surface analysis; It has a robotic arm up to 2 meters long to take pictures of any formation, stone, soil and to conduct scientific experiments. Our robot, 2.7 meters wide and 2.1 meters high, weighs 900 kg and has wheels with a diameter of 50.8 cm. The Explorer was designed by engineers working at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to overcome obstacles up to 65 cm in height and travel up to 200 meters every day. Our robot obtains the necessary energy from the radioisotope thermoelectric generator that generates electricity from the natural decay of plutonium-238.

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Selfie by Curiosity (Image Copyright: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Landing on Mars and Before

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Image depicting Curiosity approaching Mars (Image Copyright: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

The robot, worth $ 2.5 billion, was launched from the Cape Canaveral Space Station on November 26, 2011 and successfully landed at Gale on Mars on August 6, 2012, at 05.17 (UTC), after a daring landing sequence, which NASA calls “Seven Minutes of Terror”. landed in the Aeolis Palus area in its crater. NASA decided that due to Curiosity’s weight, rolling it in bags, a method for landing, wouldn’t work. Instead, a method that would require him to perform extremely complex maneuvers was used.

A supersonic parachute was required to slow the fall of the spacecraft, as there would be a fiery entrance to the atmosphere. NASA officials stated that for a successful landing, a parachute that can withstand up to 29,480 kg will be needed. The parachute was able to slow the car down to 322 km / h, but this speed was seen as a very high speed for landing. To solve this problem, engineers added a rocket to the parachute, which will be deployed at the finale of the landing sequence. The flying crane, called “skycrane”, was deployed 16 m above the surface. The landing gear was swinging under rockets with the help of 6 meters of ropes. The vehicle gently touched the surface and the skycrane was disconnected so that our robot landed successfully 2.4 km from the Bradbury landing site, which it aimed and wanted to land, after a 563,000,000 km journey.

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A photograph depicting the fall of Curiosity to the surface of Mars with the help of “skycrane” (Image Copyright: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

NASA personnel were watching all this on TV nervously. The entire staff was delighted as Curiosity landed safely on the Martian surface. In order for Curiosity to carry out all these stages of the landing safely and to successfully perform the missions to be given after landing, NASA, in order for it to be mechanically designed before launching to Mars, to carry out simulations and tests, to fulfill the requirements in the safest and most successful way during the mission, He conducted a partnership with Siemens. PLM Software products of Siemens were used in the development of this unique spacecraft. Jet Propulsion Laboratory used NX ™ platform from Siemens PLM products for mechanical design. NX provided Jet Propulsion Laboratory with a fully integrated CAD / CAM / CAE (computer-aided design / computer-aided manufacturing / computer-aided engineering) system that can perform structural modeling and simulation using Femap ™ so that the mechanical parts of our robot can be developed. The lab also used Teamcenter® software from Siemens PLM products, which provides structured product and computing management from a single source throughout the digital lifecycle.

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In NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Siemens PLM Software products were used, which includes platforms such as NX 3D CAD, which has a big place in Curiositiy’s design story. (Image Copyright: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Equipment Seeking Life Tips

Curiosity is equipped with a lot of equipment that investigates habitability on Mars. The Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons, one of the important equipment to investigate the existence of life, was developed by the Russian Space Agency to detect hydrogen or ice or water by bombarding the surface with neutrons.

With its 2.1 m long robotic arm, Curiosity collects rock and soil forms from the surface, analyzes them and tries to find clues to life.

Sampling (SAM) equipment on Mars analyzes organic and gases from both the atmosphere and rock forms. In addition, the ratio of oxygen and carbon isotopes in carbon dioxide and the amount of methane gas in the atmosphere are determined by means of the tools in this equipment. Curiosity sends us images taken with its high resolution cameras so that researchers can compare the environment on Mars with the earth. For example, high resolution cameras were used in riverbed exploration on Mars.

Can There Be Life in Mars?

Curiosity’s main task is to decide whether Mars is a suitable planet for life. Our curious robot, which seeks answers to many vital questions about life, has important equipment that it can use on the red planet to get answers. Although these tools are not designed to directly find life on their own, they send us the information they have gathered about the environment, allowing us to make inferences and gain ideas about whether life is or not. For example, Curiosity sent signals to researchers in early 2013 indicating habitability on Mars. In the samples taken by Curiosity from the Martian surface, elements such as sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon, which are considered to be the building blocks of life, were found. This was exciting for scientists, although there was no direct evidence for life itself. Asked whether the Martian environment, which is Curiosity’s main mission, supports life, Michael Meyer, one of the leading scientists of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, made a statement saying, “The answer to this question is yes according to what we know.”

Curiosity made the first definitive definition of organic materials on the Martian surface in December 2014. Although organics are considered the building blocks of life, it was not seen as definitive evidence of existence, as they could not form life without chemical reactions. NASA made an explanation by saying, “Although we cannot conclude that there is a life, the discovery showed us that there were organic molecules in the Gale Crater that were reduced to be used as an energy source for life”.

The first results published at the Lunar and Planetary Sciences meeting in 2015 also showed that there were complex organic molecules in the samples Curiosity collected from Mars, but these substances were found unexpectedly. In the “wet chemistry” experiment conducted to label the chemicals found, complex organic substances were found in the vapor from an undesirable leak. This discovery created the environment for scientists to analyze the complex organic substances found.

Investigation of Mars Environment

Our curious robot is equipped with tools that allow us to learn more about the Martian environment as well as having equipment for hunting life. Studying the Martian environment is also one of Curiosity’s main tasks. For this purpose, our explorer constantly observes radiation and records the results to discover the suitability of the Martian environment for an eventual human mission. That’s why our robot’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) scans every 15 minutes to determine the rate of radiation in the surface and atmosphere. In December 2013, it was stated that the radiation levels NASA achieved through the RAD were manageable for future crewed humanitarian missions.

In addition, Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) measures the speed of the surrounding wind, determines its direction, and produces temperature and humidity graphs.

Technical Barriers and the Final Point

Curiosity experienced its first major problem in February 2013, due to a computer glitch. Although this problem, which lasted for a few days, caused a brief pause in scientific activities, it did not have a long-lasting effect on the robot. A longer lasting problem occurred on the wheels of our explorer. Although some disruptions were expected on the wheels, checks carried out in 2014 showed that the holes and wear on the wheels were larger than expected, and these wear would only get bigger as Curiosity continued to make its discoveries. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory project manager Jim Erickson said in an interview in July 2014 that they anticipated small holes in the wheels. The surprise was that the holes were larger than we expected. This situation of the wheels meant Curiosity had to stay away from the cliffs and continue to explore the sand-filled terrain, where there were no more rocks. Curiosity, which now needs to search for life with less driving and more information finding, reached its goal in September 2014, Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons), a mountain on Mars.

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View of the formation called “Kimberley” on Mount Sharp surface taken by Curiosity (Image Copyright: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Here, our curious robot had to examine the mountain slopes very carefully and move up a sloping terrain. Speaking at a press conference, scientist John Grotzinger, who is part of the Curiosity project at the California Institute of Technology, said: “We have finally reached this distant limit that we have been aiming for for a long time. In my opinion, we have to do less driving and more drilling to gather information. In this direction, we will make arrangements as scientists working in this project ”. NASA developed a drilling technique that requires lower energy and works on soft rocks found in some parts of the region in February 2015. A short circuit was observed in the arm of our robot after the disintegrated rocks in a probing process performed at the end of February 2015. If this problem persists, in the future, NASA could completely change its drilling procedures.

In this challenging and extremely important mission, Curiosity continues to collect and send surprising and promising information from the red planet. As long as humanity continues, curiosity will continue, and we will continue to need curious robots like Curiosity to learn what we do not know. Therefore, institutions such as NASA, large companies such as Siemens, engineers and scientists are making efforts to produce such robots and bring new horizons to humanity.

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