Launched in 2011, the Curiosity rover was expected to operate on Mars for 2 years, but it has been there for 12 years and continues to operate. Moreover, NASA continues to support the update.
Launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011, the Curiosity rover was designed to conduct scientific research over a two-year mission. Twelve years later, the car-sized machine is still circling the surface of Mars. NASA, on the other hand, provides Curiosity’s software support, ensuring that the vehicle remains up-to-date and receives new features.
Between April 3 and 7, Curiosity was placed in “standby” mode for scheduled software maintenance, during which time NASA uploaded a major update to the Mars rover’s software, which has been planned for years, designed to further enhance the rover’s capabilities and longevity in the harsh environment of the Red Planet. NASA released Curiosity’s last software update in 2016 and has been working on this patch ever since
The new update, called R13, includes around 180 changes. Two of these aim to make the Mars robot move faster and prevent wheel wear. The biggest change to Curiosity’s software lies in how it processes terrain images to better plan routes around obstacles.
Curiosity is now Faster and Controlled
Newer tools, such as Curiosity’s successor Perseverance, have onboard computers that can process images of terrain on the go. Curiosity does not have this equipment, so it has to stop each time to reassess surface conditions and correct its course. Not only does this slow Curiosity down, it also consumes a lot of power as the rover has to stall and then repeatedly fire up its internal systems. While NASA wasn’t able to add a new computer to Curiosity, it was able to update the code so the rover could process images faster, saving more time for travel.
The second major improvement brought by the R13 update is for the navigator’s aluminum wheels, which are starting to show signs of wear in the first year of the mission. NASA said Curiosity is making the driving process simpler by introducing “two new mobility commands” that can reduce the amount of steering it has to do while “drawing an arc towards a given waypoint,” thereby reducing wear.
According to data provided by NASA to The Register, the R13 interplanetary software patch has a size of 21,921 megabytes. Only slightly larger than R12 (21,304MB), the update was sent to Curiosity between November and December 2022, not as a whole, but divided into 51 different files. While installing the software remotely, NASA also stored the old R12 software in a secure area. If there is a problem with the installation or if a problem arises in the future, it will be possible to revert to the previous version. According to the reports, no problems have been detected so far.