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Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Mar 19, 2006 6:24:06 GMT -6
Spirit's got a bum wheel...locked solid
One of Spirit's six wheels has stopped working. Dragging that wheel, the solar-powered rover must reach a slope where it can catch enough sunshine to continue operating during the Martian winter. The period of minimum sunshine is more than 100 days away, but Spirit gets only enough power for about one hour per day of driving on flat ground. And the supply is dropping fast.
Spirit's right-front wheel became a concern once before, when it began drawing unusually high current five months after the January 2004 landing on Mars. Driving Spirit backwards redistributed lubricant and returned the wheel to normal operation. This week, during the 779th Martian day of what was originally planned as a 90-Martian-day mission, the motor that rotates that wheel stopped working.
"It is not drawing any current at all," said JPL's Jacob Matijevic, rover engineering team chief. One possibility engineers are considering is that the motor's brushes, contacts that deliver power to the rotating part of the motor, have lost contact. The motors that rotate Spirit's wheels have revolved more than 13 million times, far more than called for in the rovers? design.
Spirit's solar panels have been generating about 350 watt-hours of electricity daily for the past week. That is down about 15 percent since February and less than one-half of their output during the Martian summer.
The best spot for Spirit is the north-facing side of "McCool Hill," where it could spend the southern-hemisphere winter tilted toward the sun. Spirit finished studying a bright feature called "Home Plate" last week and is driving from there toward the hill. It has approximately 120 meters (about 390 feet) to go. Driving backwards with the right-front wheel dragging, the rover needs to stop and check frequently that the problem wheel has not snagged on anything and caused other wheels to slip excessively. Expected progress is around 12 meters (40 feet) per day under current conditions.