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Mars Exploration Rover Surface Mission Flight Thermal Performance
Keywords: Extreme Cold, Thermal Design, MER (Mars Exploration R)
NASA launched two rovers in June and July of 2003 as a part of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project. MER-A (Spirit) landed on Mars in Gusev Crater at 15 degrees South latitude and 175 degree East longitude on January 4, 2004. MER-B (Opportunity) landed on Mars in Terra Meridiani at 2 degrees South latitude and 354 degrees East longitude on January 25, 2004. Both rovers have well exceeded their design lifetime (90 Sols) by more than a factor of 4. Spirit and Opportunity are still healthy and continue to execute their roving science missions at the time of this writing. This paper discusses rover flight thermal performance during the surface missions of both vehicles, covering roughly the time from the MER-A landing in late Southern Summer (Ls = 328, Sol 1A) through the Southern Winter solstice (Ls = 90, Sol 255A) to nearly Southern Vernal equinox (Ls = 160 , Sol 398A). This paper describes the MER rover thermal design, its implementation and performance on Mars. The rover surface thermal design performance was better than pre-landing predictions. The very successful thermal design allowed a high level of communications immediately after landing without overheating and required a minimal amount of survival heating in the dead of winter. An analytical thermal model developed for the rover was used to predict surface operations performance. A reduced-node version of this model was integrated into the mission planning tool to achieve the proper balance between: 1) desired science and communications operating profile, 2) available energy from the power system and 3) ensuring temperature limits prescribed for the hardware. One of the more challenging thermal problems during surface operations, predicting the performance of actuator and camera electronics warmup heaters, was automated by using heater lookup tables that were periodically updated based on flight telemetry. Specific MER rover thermal flight experiences are discussed in this paper. Lessons learned and suggestions for improving future Mars surface vehicle designs are presented.
Mr. Keith Novak , Engineer
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, CA
USA


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