I am really curious in finding out how the Mars Rovers are maintained. The communications with the software could be done as long as there are no connection malfunctions, and I suppose they have a redundant connection with them, but hardware wise, is there any, and I mean any kind of maintenance performed on the rovers?

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    $\begingroup$ Hardware maintenance requires physical access.... $\endgroup$ – GdD Oct 22 '20 at 9:31
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    $\begingroup$ @GdD but there can be robotic "hands" or extensions who can self support that? $\endgroup$ – Polar Bear Oct 22 '20 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ If there is no communication with Earth for a long time there is a special software for recovering the communication. But that is no maintenance. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Oct 22 '20 at 9:36
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind they're not meant to last long enough to need maintenance. The primary mission of Spirit and Opportunity was just 90 days. They lasted 6 and 14 years. Based on that, Curiosity got 2 years and is still going 9 years later. Perseverence's primary mission is also 2 years. $\endgroup$ – Schwern Oct 22 '20 at 19:13

There's very little opportunity to do maintenance on Mars.

I could find an example of shaking the arm of Curiosity to get rid of dust. That's cleaning, and hence maintenance, for the purpose of avoiding cross contamination of samples.

A specialised dust cleaning device (a "wiper") did not end up going to Mars.

I could find no evidence of the Dust Removal Tool being used to clean the rover itself.

In general, Mars rovers just run until they break down.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the info. I was thinking that full isolation could help with the dust problem, but whipping the cameras lenses is also a challenge. Plus a wind blowing fan sort of device on the robotic extension could solve that problem as well, but as I said I have no info on any kind of maintenance. On the other hand, having the fingers crossed that the rover doesn't break a wheel is also a great risk. Using the robotic arm could on some cases solve this problem. I guess the tests and analysis on Earth should be really excessive, but pity there's no plan B... $\endgroup$ – Polar Bear Oct 22 '20 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ @PolarBear: If you do some research I think you'll find that the mars rover is built with an absurd amount of robustness, even in its software systems. $\endgroup$ – Robert Harvey Oct 22 '20 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ I believe there was also an effort to drive the rovers both in "forward" and "reverse" similar amounts, but I'm having trouble finding any sources and I can't remember why (dust mitigation? wear?) $\endgroup$ – Erin Anne Oct 22 '20 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ @PolarBear a fan would be pretty ineffective because the atmosphere on Mars is extremely thin, less than 1% of Earth's. $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Oct 23 '20 at 2:35
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    $\begingroup$ "There's very little opportunity to do maintenance on Mars." - But there is Opportunity to be maintained on Mars. SCNR $\endgroup$ – asdfex Oct 23 '20 at 19:50

Regarding the dust issue: much to the surprise of the early Mars scientists and rover teams, Mars takes care of the dust problem for us! Mars' typical weather generates these dust devils that whip through periodically and clean off the solar panels, thus giving new life to the rovers every time. This is useful for the landers and earlier rovers, but the newer Curiosity and Perseverance rovers both are nuclear powered via radioisotope thermoelectric generators or RTGs.

Other than that, there is no real way for these rovers to be maintained. You might be surprised to learn that for some of the earlier rover mission the baseline for nominal mission success is often only a few months of operation where they strive to achieve a few key science objectives. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers blew past those warranties though and lasted years thanks to the robust and over-engineered design. So typically speaking, the rover teams quite literally drive these things until they just can't go any further or until their power runs out.

If you'd like to read further, Emily Lakdawalla wrote an excellent book: The Design and Engineering of Curiosity.


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