Curiosity – Tech Specs

NASA’s Curiosity, which will explore Mars for the next two years, is quite a versatile, car-size, vehicle. Here is what it looks like and what tools it carries with it for it’s research and exploration purposes:

Dimensions & weight

Length: 10 feet (3 meters)
Width: 9 feet (2.7 meters)
Height: 7 feet (2.2 meters)
Mass: 1,982 pounds (899 kilograms)

Tech Specs – Hand

Curiosity has a “hand” at the end of its arm called a turret. The turret carries a drill, a brush to remove dust, a soil scoop, a camera for close-up views, and two science tools to understand if Mars ever had habitable conditions for microbial life. One science tool can detect rocks and minerals altered by water and another is designed to detect carbon-based compounds known as organics, the chemical building blocks of life.

Names of Tools on the Turret:

  • APXS
  • Sample Processing & Handling (SA/PaH) subsystem
    • Powder Acquisition Drill System (PADS)
    • Dust Removal Tool (DRT)
    • Collection and Handling for in-situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA)

Tech Specs – Body

Curiosity’s “body” is an insulated container that protects “vital organs” inside the rover such as its computer “brains.” Its body is high off the ground, so the rover won’t get stuck on any rocks. The power system, which looks like its “tail,” flows excess heat into the body to keep the computer “brains,” avionics, instrument electronics, and interior instruments (SAM and CheMin) warm in the extremely cold Martian temperatures. By analogy, the rover’s body also contains a “digestive system.” A tool on the rover’s “hand” (a drill system) “chews” the rock samples by grinding them into a powder, then pours the samples through funnels on its “back” into its “body.” Once “digested” inside, the rover can tell what it just “ate” with science tools in the “body” that identify what the samples are made of. The rover hopes to find two things: 1) minerals altered in water, which is necessary to life as we know it, and 2) signs of organics, the chemical building blocks of life. That will help explain if Mars could have been a habitat in the past for small life forms called microbes.

  • Main Function: Protect the Computer, Electronic, and Instrument Systems
  • Components: bottom and sides are the frame of the chassis; top is the rover equipment deck (its “back”)

Tech Specs – Back

The rover’s “back” (the rover equipment deck) carries the rover’s communications antennas (“ears and mouth”) along with other key tools.


Tech Specs – Tail

The backside of the rover is less crowded with instruments than other parts of the rover. The power source is the main feature, giving electrical power to allow the rover to perform all of its functions. Since the rover may at times move in reverse, hazard avoidance cameras showing the ground view are important (and help with driving at all times).

  • Main Function: Provide power to the rover
  • Location: At side of the rover
  • Size: 25 inches (64 centimeters) in diameter by 26 inches (66 centimeters) long
  • Weight: about 99 pounds (45 kilograms)

Tech Specs – Inside the Rover

While it’s hard to show, inside the body of the rover are its computer systems, two science chemistry labs (CheMin and SAM), and more! Unlike people and animals, the rover “brains” are in its body. The rover has a “spare brain” just in case it needs a back-up computer. Just like the human brain, the rover computers register signs of health, temperature, and other features that keep the rover “alive.” This main control loop essentially keeps the rover “alive” by constantly checking itself to ensure that it is both able to communicate throughout the surface mission and that it remains thermally stable (not too hot or too cold) at all times. It does so by periodically checking temperatures, particularly in the rover body, and responding to potential overheating conditions, recording power generation and power storage data throughout the Mars sol (a martian day), and scheduling and preparing for communication sessions. Curiosity’s computers not only control the rover, but also serve as the main “brains” for the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft during the cruise from Earth and arrival at Mars. The flight software checks out the health of the spacecraft during all mission phases, checks for commands from Earth, and controls spacecraft activities.

  • Processor:
    • radiation-hardened central processor with PowerPC 750 Architecture: a BAE RAD 750
    • operates at up to 200 megahertz speed, 10 times the speed in Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity’s computers
  • Memory:
    • 2 gigabytes of flash memory (~8 times as much as Spirit or Opportunity)
    • 256 megabytes of dynamic random access memory
    • 256 kilobytes of electrically erasable programmable read-only memory

Tech Specs – Neck and head

Curiosity’s “neck and head” (mast) carries seven of Curiosity’s seventeen camera “eyes.” Cameras on Curiosity’s mast provide a view similar to what a nearly seven-foot-tall basketball player would see on Mars. Before deciding whether it is worth it to make the drive over to rocks and rock layers of interest, a laser on the rover’s “forehead” can zap them from a distance analyze what the vapor is made of to see if they are interesting enough to study close up. Most interesting are materials that formed in water, key to life as we know it.

  • Main Function: to give the rover a human-scale view through cameras and to allow it remote-sensing capabilities
  • Height: about 7 feet from the ground

All of the information in this post are according to NASA’s information. For source click here.


  2 comments for “Curiosity – Tech Specs

  1. January 2, 2013 at 19:29

    Dear Sirs,
    I am writing a book about Curiosity and MSL.
    I have already written “On marchera sur Mars”.
    I find your blog particularly well done and the description of Curiosity is the best I have ever seen on Internet.
    I’d like to use your pictures and I’ll explain in French the different functions of the Rover Curiosity.

    • January 10, 2013 at 11:34

      Well, thanks, but I do not hold the copyrights to these images, so I am not in a position to authorize the use of them in a book.

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