Mars rover Curiosity gets software upgrade, improved capabilities

Dec. 20, 2013 at 6:34 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., Dec. 20 (UPI) -- NASA says its Mars rover Curiosity has had a technology "tuneup," a software upgrade that will advance the rover's capabilities.

"Curiosity is now operating on version 11 of its flight software," Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., reported Friday.

The upgrade is the third since Curiosity's landing on Mars 16 months ago, with the switch from version 10 taking about a week. An earlier switch to version 11 resulted in an unintended reboot Nov. 7 and a return to version 10, but the latest transition went smoothly, JPL scientists said.

Improvements in version 11 include expanded capability for using the Curiosity's robotic arm while the vehicle is on slopes, and better flexibility for storing information overnight to use in resuming autonomous driving on a second day, they said.

The next "tuneup" activity for the rover will be an examination of its aluminum wheels using a camera at the end of its robotic arm, Erickson said.

"We want to take a full inventory of the condition of the wheels," Erickson said. "Dents and holes were anticipated, but the amount of wear appears to have accelerated in the past month or so. It appears to be correlated with driving over rougher terrain."

Curiosity's recent movements have taken it over ground embedded with sharp rocks.

"The wheels can sustain significant damage without impairing the rover's ability to drive," Erickson said. "However, we would like to understand the impact that this terrain type has on the wheels, to help with planning future drives."

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