bots IN BRIEF
THAT’S THE SPIRIT!
There was never any doubt as to whether Spirit would be
staying on Mars, but nearly two thousand days of operation
instead of ninety? Incredible.
Spirit isn’t done yet, but unfortunately, she might be getting
close. NASA has officially given up attempts to extricate the
rover from deep sand and has declared her a stationary science
platform. Over the next several weeks, small movements will be
made to try and orient Spirit’s solar panels more favorably
toward the south, in the hopes that they will be able to generate
enough power to keep Spirit alive through the Martian winter.
If Spirit makes it, she could continue to do valuable scientific
work for months or even years:
“There’s a class of science we can do only with a stationary
vehicle that we had put off during the years of driving,” said
Steve Squyres, a researcher at Cornell University and principal
investigator for Spirit and Opportunity. “Degraded mobility does
not mean the mission ends abruptly. Instead, it lets us transition
to stationary science.”
One such experiment Spirit has begun studies tiny wobbles
in the rotation of Mars to gain insight about the planet’s core.
This requires months of radio-tracking the motion of a point
on the surface of Mars to calculate long-term motion with an
accuracy of a few inches.
“If the final scientific feather in Spirit’s cap is determining
whether the core of Mars is liquid or solid, that would be
wonderful — it’s so different from the other knowledge we’ve
gained from Spirit,” said Squyres.
Tools on Spirit’s robotic arm can study variations in the composition of nearby soil which has been affected by water.
Stationary science also includes watching how wind moves soil particles and monitoring the Martian atmosphere.
BYE, BYE BIRDIE
Well, this sucks … in order to pay for Iraq and
Afghanistan, the army has been forced to essentially
gut the core of its Future Combat System (which has
already been gutted a few times) by eliminating the
MULE and FireScout unmanned vehicles. One variant
of the MULE will remain (a lightly armed version), but
the FireScout is toast, to be replaced by an improved
version of the Shadow UAV which (for the record) is
an unmanned airplane, not a helicopter.
It may make fiscal sense to do this, but it’s disappointing. It’s sad that one of the most promising aerial platforms I’ve seen
is getting canceled for budget reasons.
Cool tidbits and interesting info herein mainly provided by Evan Ackerman at www.botjunkie.com, but also www.robotsnob.com
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