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9/13/2012
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NASA Makes Most Of Curiosity Rover Data

New Mission Data Processing and Control System (MPCS) uses techniques including graphical views to make raw data from Mars rover useful to more team members inside NASA.

NASA Curiosity Visual Tour: Mars, Revealed
NASA Curiosity Visual Tour: Mars, Revealed
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
NASA has begun using a new system to process the raw data generated by its Curiosity rover on Mars. The Mission Data Processing and Control System (MPCS) presents data visually so that it's useful to a wider range of project team members, including mission managers, software developers, and scientists.

For the past week, Curiosity has been parked in the same spot on Mars as NASA tests the rover's robotic arm in preparation for using its instruments to "touch" rocks for the first time. The space agency plans to resume driving the rover within the next few days, generating new kinds of data, such as the composition of rocks, to be transmitted back to mission headquarters at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

MPCS interfaces with NASA's deep-space network, which uses the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as a network node for relaying data to and from Curiosity. Developed in the Java programming language, MPCS puts data into "terms" that other computer systems used on the project can adapt and apply, according to Navid Dehghani, ground systems manager at Jet Propulsion Lab.

[ For more on the Curiosity mission, see Curiosity Rolls Ahead On Mars Following Software Upgrade. ]

The system also produces tailored, graphical views of data for use by Curiosity's various flight operations teams. For example, data relating to the rover's mobility can be presented in a format that is geared to engineers.

"The flight software has parameters that are generated by the rover that tells the team on the ground what is the state of the rover," said Dehghani. "This system provides the capability to view those in graphical terms that are understandable and actionable."

MPCS takes the data received through antennas from the deep-space network and processes the raw data in real time by putting it into a type of "round-robin" buffer. "It receives multiple types of data from the spacecraft. This could be health and engineering data from the rover; it could be voltage or power or thermal numbers," Dehghani said. "They are analyzed, then sent to monitoring stations that are set up to be able to display the data in a meaningful way to the end user."

First used for Curiosity, MPCS will likely have a role in future missions. "We're trying to adapt it to an earth-orbiting mission," Dehghani said, adding that NASA partner Lockheed Martin is also evaluating MPCS for potential use space missions it's supporting.

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