Went to a talk today at PARC (A Xerox Company) on:
JPL's primary focus is robotic space exploration, and they are currently operating 24 active spacecraft. This past year has been very busy for them with 5 launches.
The Mars Science Laboratory project was the focus of the talk, specifically the recent Curiosity Rover which landed on Mars.
The mission is to determine the "habitability" of the planet. To do this, their fundamental theme of exploration is: "Follow the water." The main task for the Curiosity Rover is chemical and mineral analyis of Martian soil.
After about a 10-month cruise, the Curiosity Rover landed in Gale Crater. It is driving through what looks like an alluvial fan (assumed to be an ancient stream bed), which looks very similar to those on Earth.
Highlights of the talk include:
- A detailed and amazing sequence of the descent and landing: heat-shielded atmospheric entry, parachute descent, powered descent, and skycrane landing. They call the atmospheric entry sequence the "6 minutes of terror".
- A video of the landing, taken from a camera on the bottom of the rover.
- The small models of the rover and powed descent vehicle.
- The Internal Rover Electronics, pointing out the printed flex cables, both on the robotic arm and within the rover body.
PARC's connections to the Mars project include their work with flexible printed electronics, with an eventual goal of creating a "printable spacecraft".