Thanks for sharing more information on the electronics of Curiosity. How is the electronics protected from the harsh environment on Mars. Are these electronic control cards kept inside a climate controlled chamber inside Curiosity? Any information on who the FPGA manufacturer is?
Sanjib, we are in touch with JPL to get more details on the FPGA design for Curiosity. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, we see India is planning a Mars probe:
I know that Xilinx do a range of RAD-hardened FPGAs which are designed for the rigorous challenge of space travel. Besides FPGAs there are a range of RAD hardened components which are designed to deal with the high levels of exposure.
There is some detail about the computing power of the device on the wikipedia page, the processor is a BAE systems RAD750 with 400MIPS! http://www.baesystems.com/article/BAES_077441/bae-systems-hardware-lands-on-mars-aboard-curiosity-rover
I know that the rover is powered by a 'nuclear battery' which is a plutonium isotope thermopile, this could also be used to heat the rover in the harsh Martian winters, unlike previous rovers this one is designed to operate during winter, which is the reason for the radioactive constant power source.
Speaking of heating, JPL reports that temperatures at Gale Crater are greater than their models predicted, and therefore so is Curiosity. Temps will undoubtedly drop when the rover starts climbing the sides of the 18,000-foot central peak, Mount Sharp. The plutonium power source should make continuous operation much easier than the solar-power Opportunity and Spirit rovers.
It is a great piece of Engineering Design that has started successfully walking on a no man's land. Lets see for how much time it is being able to roam over the red planet. It is tough to predict that How much the information obtained from Mars will be useful to mankind but the Dream Mode and the Robot design will surely help the Automobile industries on technical fronts.
Especially the so called "dream mode". I expect this term attracts the marketing gurus associated with general purpose microcontrollers and microprocessors. Then the new ad will say "The lowest power dream mode microcontroller in the world...".
I think that using a FPGA to provide basic instinct and reactions to save power is a great idea! Not a new one, I have been doing that for years when I was driving home from yet another late night when I had 1.5hr commute times (kidding really!)... I do like the idea of a smaller processor playing baby sitter so the mom/dad can nap..
In reality we have been making products with this type of functionality for years. Most set-top boxes we make use a micro-controller for external interfacing and sensing. They perform a power management function, receive remote IR commands and schedule wake-ups. I credit them with a success because the NASA approach is much more expensive but much more powerful, I imagine their FPGA based design is able to monitor the fine data from a wide range of sensors and make decisions, rather than our simple listen and wake logic.
No doubt there's a PR angle to Curiosity's "dream mode" since the technology itself isn't really pushing the envelope. What is, of course, is the application: an autonomous vehicle monitoring its own systems from an average distance of about 140 million miles.
If I have understood it correctly, the same nuclear power source also maintains workable environmental conditions for the instruments on the rover irrespective of harse climatic fluctuations on Mars...continuously. Hence, it is required to avoid unnecessary power wastage in order to maintain power for the mission time (2 years??)...my two cents.
Curiosity fired its laser at a fist-sized Martian rock for the first time this past weekend. Curiosity's "ChemCam" fired 30 pulses of laser light at the nearby rock for 10 seconds. ChemCam is designed to catch the resulting light with its telescope, then analyze it with three onboard spectrometers to gather information on the composition of the rock sample. The principal investigator on the experiment reports NASA got "lots of signal."
This experiments sound awesome, and just wondering out of personal "curiosity" (grin),
what power/energy levels are these laser shots and what is a safe distance to shoot that kind of instrument. I am hoping that there won't be any surprises, ;-)
You also have to account for the difference in atmospheric pressure on Mars in determining how the laser operates up there. NASA showed an image in which the plasma resulting from a laser shot on Mars is noticeably larger on Mars compared to Earth.
The rock was close by since Curiosity hasn't yet moved. NASA characterized the first laser activation as "target practice" intended to calibrate the instrument. The rock, affectionately named "Coronation" (NASA branding is getting a little out of hand), presented a relatively large, flat side to ChemCam, so scientists reasoned it was a good first target. No work on laser energy levels. We'll try to find out.
I am guessing just running the motors (to move the vehicle) requires a fair amount of energy (due to martian soil resistance). Factor in that a standard PC uses about a 100 Watt Power Supply and the 110Watt Supply suggested by someone above would not allow for running the whole computing system, driving, and firing the laser simultaneously(it wouldn't make for a nifty sci-fi movie) ;-) !