NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover speeds up

While NASA’s new Perseverance rover is making all the headlines these days, the Curiosity rover also continues to explore the surface of Mars, more than a decade after arriving on the Red Planet.

The team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which oversees the Mars rover missions, has given Curiosity a new lease of life after installing its first major software update in seven years.

Of the 180 changes implemented in the update, one of the most significant is giving the Hardy Rover improved driving skills that enable it to cover ground more quickly.

Curiosity is designed to drive in segments, stopping after each to assess captured imagery of nearby terrain so it can plan a safe route ahead. This is in contrast to the Perseverance, which has a dedicated computer that allows it to snap imagery and process it on the go.

While Curiosity will still need to stop after each segment, the new software will enable the rover to process imagery much faster than before, helping to speed up its travel time.

“It won’t let Curiosity drive as fast as Perseverance, but instead of pausing for a full minute after a drive segment, we’re pausing for just a minute or two,” said JPL’s Jonathan Dennison. Explained in an online post. “Less time spent between drive segments also means we use less energy each day. And even though we are almost 11 years old, we are still implementing new ideas to make the most of our available energy for science activities.”

It’s worth noting that Curiosity’s speed on the surface of Mars will still be something of a crawl as its top speed is a little less than 1 mph, much slower than the average 3 mph speed at which humans move.

Recent software updates will also reduce wear and tear on the rover’s aluminum wheels, improve the efficiency of Curiosity’s Earth-based human crew, and pave the way for smoother operation of Curiosity’s robotic arm.

Other changes include enhancements to the way Curiosity sends messages to JPL, and simplification of the computer code, which has been changed by several patches over the years since Curiosity launched.

“The biggest changes will help keep Curiosity operating more efficiently for years to come,” JPL said.

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