Launched in November 2011, Curiosity successfully landed on the surface of Mars on August 6 for its two-year mission. The spacecraft is a rolling lab that includes an X-ray spectrometer, a laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy system, organic sample analysis systems, and radiation and neutron detection systems.
Supported by the processing capability of the BAE Systems RAD750® radiation-hardened computers, Curiosity will analyze samples drilled from rocks or scooped from the ground to discover whether conditions on the planet were ever conducive to life.
The RAD750 is a radiation hardened version of the IBM PowerPC 750 chip designed to withstand the rigors of space. The third generation processor is capable of surviving in space for 15 years with only one ground intervention, which far exceeds the standards for commercial-based PCs. The processor also powers the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a key communications link during the landing of Curiosity.
BAE Systems radiation hardened processors have been powering NASA rovers since 1997 and have advanced significantly since the RAD6000s used on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.
“BAE Systems, and our industry team, couldn’t be prouder of our partnership with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the early success of the Curiosity mission,” said Vic Scuderi, manager of satellite electronics. “It is exciting to have the RAD750 computers support this important program and to know our technology plays a critical role in space exploration and discovery.”
Since 1995, BAE Systems’ facility in Manassas, Virginia, has delivered more than 660 radiation-hardened computers that have been launched and are operating in space on more than 220 satellites. The company’s single board computers are market leaders in the space industry for onboard computing, designed to meet the stringent mission requirements for the Department of Defense, NASA and commercial satellites.
To help identify a landing site, BAE Systems’ SOCET SET software processed planetary images into terrain models for landing site analysis and produced orthophoto mosaics for use as base maps.
“SOCET SET’s versatility as an end-to-end photogrammetry solution has made it a frequent flier to Mars,” said Mark Sarojak, director of geospatial exploitation products global sales and marketing. “We work closely with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to adapt our software to support future missions on Mars, and beyond.”
The digital photogrammetric software, known as SOCET SET, offers a complete workflow to allow rigorous modeling of Mars providing multi-sensor triangulation, as well as automatic terrain extraction. The detailed 3-D terrain models are built from images of varying size, quality and scene content.
SOCET SET has been used to support several previous Mars exploration missions, including the Mars Express orbiter in 2003, and the two NASA Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on opposite sides of Mars in January 2004. In addition, it was used to process camera scans taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived at Mars in 2006.