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Why has MSL (Curiosity) stopped sending back new Mars images?


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I've followed the MSL mission pretty closely for the past 2 plus Earth years. One of my first acts for most of the last 850 sols has been to check out the daily images taken and downloaded by Curiosity. Almost every day, images arrived without fail, even during the long drive to the base of Mount Sharp. There were a couple of computer hiccups that caused a very apparent break in this cycle, but were quickly explained. The images kept coming- until just after the Christmas holiday. Since then there have been very few, and no explanation from any of my sources. The only thing I can find that has changed is that John Grotzinger is out as project scientist and Ashwin Vasavada has been named as the new.

Does anyone have any information on why the images are no longer coming?

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I read somewhere that they were having trouble sending data to Earth. Apparently the rover lost the information after sending it and it didn't arrive in its entirety a couple of times. Some people even joked about Curiosity having Amnesia.

They must have fixed it by now, though.

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The Amnesia victim is Opportunity, the 11 year old predecessor to Curiosity. I have not heard anything about technical issues on Curiosity itself anywhere.

As for the release of images: it is customary for pretty much all space science missions around the world that there is a lockout period during which the data retrieved is available exclusively to the team that manages the science instrument that took the data. A rover or probe is not operated as a whole by a single team, but you rather need to consider the instruments "payload" carried on the probe/rover, belonging not to the craft operator but to an external team that won the instrument slot (there are always a large number of teams competing for slots ahead of a mission). These scientists get a period of exclusivity so they can actually reap the benefits of their hard work - that is, they can analyse the data in peace and write a paper about their findings. Important papers get cited in other works, and citations are like "street cred" in the science world - a currency of reputation, the value of which cannot be understated.

So why do we sometimes get to see new images and data hot off the press? Because it is the science team's right to waive the exclusivity period for individual things. Maybe they say "we believe in open information access". Or they say "this one is so awesome, the world must see it now". Or they say "these images have no scientific value, let's just toss em out there". Whatever the reason, this is actually done fairly frequently. But you can bet that if some instruments hits a scientific motherlode, it will likely be a while until it gets out in full. All data from the Rosetta mission for example, including Philae, is subject to a six-month exclusivity period. Anything we get to see ahead of that is because the scientists decide to be nice.

It is entirely possible that not only was the rover operating team downsized a lot over the holiday season, but the science teams took a break as well. With nobody there to check the images, nobody could mark them for release, so none were released because they're still under exclusivity. Either that, or Curiosity photographed something really, really important... :P

(It's probably the former, really.)

Edited by Streetwind
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Why change the way images are released 850 sols into the mission? Almost every day I was getting images only a few hours old. I can't be the only person who has noticed the change, yet a cursory search provides no explanation.

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If it IS the science release thing coming into play, then chances are they didn't change it. There were probably always images that were being held back for a bit and others that weren't. If they took three images and released two, you wouldn't know about the third until months later when they released it. It might just so happen that they decided they are near something they care about so they are being more careful with these.

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If it IS the science release thing coming into play, then chances are they didn't change it.

There is of course a limited band width for transmission of images. Thumbnails come down first, the team decides which thumbnails are most relevant, and commands the rover to send down the full size images. The less relevant images trickle in later, but I'm telling you that something is much different. Maybe it's something that came down with the new project scientist.

At first I figured the rover was not functioning within acceptable parameters, but it's been too long with no word for that to be the case. You can see below one of the last Navcam images received which is clearly dated as to the sol it was taken and and the Earth date. A quick perusal of JPLs' MSL raw image site will show that this is the longest period without new images in the entire mission.

Hmm I can't get the dated image to post. Here's the full size version from Navcam left B, taken on sol 855, January 1 2015, at 9:02:23UTC.




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  • 4 weeks later...


MSL ( Curiosity ) Investigates the Pahrump hills outcrop at the base of Mt. Sharp, December 13, 2014, as seen by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment ( HiRISE ) on board NASAs' Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Images are returning, but since John Grotzinger moved on, days go buy without new downloads . Very disappointing. I wonder if they got tired of all the pareidoliaites who see wacky stuff that isn't there, or weren't very happy that Norra Noffke used the images to publish the very well written paper below, claiming to have found structures consistent with microbial mat fossils on Earth. Oh well. This post is mainly to show the image of the rover by MRO.


Mmmm. Article, formely free is now behind a pay wall.

Edited by Aethon
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  • 1 month later...

One other forum I frequent is unmannedspaceflight.com. It was originally created for the Spirit and Opportunity missions, but has extended to cover all unmanned spaceflight operations. The crew there is a mix of amateurs with the occasional professional popping their head in. NASA has an amazingly open policy now about images, with most missions publishing raw images within hours of reception here on Earth. ESA is getting better about it, but they have more limited control over their instruments because they are managed by outside parties (OSIRIS? I swear that camera failed during Rosetta's launch. The Rosetta NavCam team deserves an award.)

As for Curiosity and images, often some problem occurs with the data path here on Earth that causes issues with image releases - missions typically do some rudimentary processing on the raws. Usually just waiting a few days for someone to kick a server somewhere is sufficient.

Often UMSF.com pro/amateurs will process images, taking separate color frames and combining them, or creating 3d views or even shape models.

Just be aware that UMSF.com moderators are very strict about enforcing rules - no manned spaceflight, no astrobiology, and no politics (including funding discussions).

For those who have read this far, here's your reward:


Now, go on amazon.com and buy some 3D glasses to see those pictures in glorious 3D:


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