Traverse Performance Characterization for the Mars Science Laboratory Rover

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Abstract

It is anticipated that the Mars Science Laboratory rover, named Curiosity, will traverse 10–20 km on the surface of Mars during its primary mission. In preparation for this traverse, Earth-based tests were performed using Mars weight vehicles. These vehicles were driven over Mars analog bedrock, cohesive soil, and cohesionless sand at various slopes. Vehicle slip was characterized on each of these terrains versus slope for direct upslope driving. Results show that slopes up to 22 degrees are traversable on smooth bedrock and that slopes up to 28 degrees are traversable on some cohesive soils. In cohesionless sand, results show a sharp transition between moderate slip on 10 degree slopes and vehicle embedding at 17 degrees. For cohesionless sand, data are also presented showing the relationship between vehicle slip and wheel sinkage. Side by side testing of the Mars Exploration Rover test vehicle and the Mars Science Laboratory test vehicle show how increased wheel diameter leads to better slope climbing ability in sand for vehicles with nearly identical ground pressure. Lastly, preliminary data from Curiosity's initial driving on Mars are presented and compared to the Earth-based testing, showing good agreement for the driving done during the first 250 Martian days.

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