Generator provided by US firm, which has an engineering centre in Bangalore

A ‘brain transplant’ has been completed on Mars rover Curiosity that will install a new version of software on both of the rover's redundant main computers. Curiosity, which spent its second weekend on Mars, has transitioned to software better suited for tasks ahead, such as driving and using its strong robotic arm.

The Mars rover Curiosity is powered by advanced nuclear power system from Hamilton Sundstrand Rocketdyne, which helped design and develop the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator.

Hamilton Sundstrand Rocketdyne is a division of UTC Aerospace Systems, which is a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation, a New York Stock Exchange-listed entity.

In Bangalore, Hamilton Sundstrand Corporation and Infotech Enterprises have teamed up and opened an engineering centre for aircraft systems software and electronics analysis, design and development.

The new centre of excellence in India is expected to help the firm “stay competitive in the global aerospace market”.

Regarding Curiosity, Hamilton Sundstrand Rocketdyne said in a statement, “The entire engineering team has been anxiously waiting for the successful landing of the rover so our generator can begin to power the Mars surface operations.”

After Curiosity landed on Mars, the rover successfully began its mission to see whether the red planet has ever offered environmental conditions favourable for microbial life. The generator gives the rover the power it needs to begin collecting data. It has “no moving parts so it is very robust. It is also giving Curiosity excellent mobility and scientific capability.” The generator, which has a design life of 14 years, has been built to operate in a range of harsh environments, from the vacuum of deep space to extreme planetary surface atmospheres. It was developed by Hamilton and Teledyne Energy Systems in partnership with the US Department of Energy.

The generator was used for the first time on the Curiosity mission. It provides both heat and electrical power to the rover, and continuous electrical power that allows day and night operation. The heat is used to provide thermal stability for Curiosity without drawing on the rover's electrical power. NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft delivered Curiosity to its target area on Mars on August 5. The landing time includes the 13.8 minutes needed for confirmation of the touchdown to be radioed to Earth at the speed of light.

amritanair.ghaswalla@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on August 15, 2012)
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