Asked by James Gardner
Originally the Curiosity mission was planned to last for two years. However, NASA are hoping to extend it indefinitely with the aim to operate the mission as long as it’s scientifically viable. Just how long the rover will be trundling along the martian surface is currently open for debate but NASA officials estimate a much longer period of 10, 12 or even 15 years. Before its launch, the radioisotope thermoelectric generator, which creates electricity from the heat produced by the radioactive decay of element plutonium-238, provided some 110 watts of electrical power to operate the rover’s instruments, robotic arm, wheels, computers and radio. Additionally warm fluids heated by the generator’s excess heat are pumped throughout the rover to keep the electronics and other systems at temperatures comfortable for optimum operation.
However despite the extra power that plutonium-238 can provide, Curiosity can still succumb to the failure of its wheel’s drive motors and therefore its ability to move around on the martian surface leaving scientists to believe that the rover could last for a shorter period of somewhere between five to six years.
Answered by science journalist Gemma Lavender
Image courtesy of NASA
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