Unit lesson Space Robots Task 1

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Unit 9 Lesson 3 Space Robots

Task 1. Look the text through and answer the questions:

  1. What is the purpose of Mars rovers?

  2. How are Mars rovers powered?

  3. Why do rovers need a special type of suspension?

  4. Why are rovers called science laboratories?

What is a Mars Rover?

  1. Let's keep it simple. The definition of a rover is an exploration vehicle designed to move across unknown environment. So Mars Rovers are just mobile robots that can explore the Red Planet.

Let's look at their common features.

  1. Since they operate on Mars, these robots need to be autonomous. They cannot get a battery change, and cannot be teleoperated like robots or RC cars on Earth: the delay of communication with the Earth varies between 3 to 22 minutes due to the speed of light. That's why all the space rovers on Mars have solar panels to gather energy, and have to find their way by themselves. They still receive orders and special movement sequences from Earth daily, but they execute them alone.

  2. The new Curiosity Rover does not use solar panels. Instead, it uses a nuclear battery that provides more energy night and day.

  3. They also need to drive on rocky, desert-like grounds. That's why they all have the wheels (usually 6) with a complex system of suspension. This system, called Rocker-bogie, enables the wheels to go up and down on rocks without losing the balance of the rover.

  4. They also have a communication system that allows them to transmit information to the Earth, either directly or via some relay station (usually an orbiter). That means they must be able to locate the Earth or the relay satellite from anywhere, at anytime.

  5. And like other space robots, all this must be done with minimum computing power. The computer and electronics hardware has to be radiation-proof, vibration-proof and anything-can-happen-proof. As a result, they run all their software on computers that are equivalent to 10-year-old computers on Earth!

  6. All Mars rovers have science tools to analyze Mars rocks or take realistic pictures. The space rover is a complete mobile science laboratory in itself!

to explore – исследовать

RC = radio-controlled

tele- ['telɪ-] управляемый, действующий на расстоянии

delay - задержка

sequence - последовательность

suspension - подвеска

rocky каменистый, скалистый

relay station ретрансляционная станция

orbiter- a spacecraft designed to go into orbit
(-proof) защищающий или защищённый от воздействия чего-л.

Rock – горная порода

Task 2 Read the text once again and find out:

  1. Can Mars rovers be teleoperated from Earth? Why?

  2. Can the delay of communication with the Earth be reduced? Why?

  3. Are rovers controlled from the Earth, or are they fully autonomous?

  4. What is the advantage of a nuclear battery over solar panels?

  5. What can the Rocker-bogie suspension do?

  6. What does the rover’s hardware have to be protected from?

Task 3 Complete the conditional sentences:

  1. If the delay of communication with the Earth was 1 second,

  2. If the rover didn’t have a special system of suspension,

  3. If the rover couldn’t locate the Earth or the orbiter,

  4. If the rover’s hardware was not radiation-proof,

  5. If the rover didn’t have science tools on board,

Task 4 Explain the following terms using the verbs on the right.

robots and RC cars can be teleoperated

hardware has to be radiation-proof

vibration-proof and


to control

to protect

Task 5 Read the text below and answer the questions:

  1. What is a “launching window”?

  2. How long is the Martian year compared to the Earth’s one?

  3. What is an orbiter?

  4. What is a lander?

  5. What rover’s tasks are specified in the text?

  6. Do you know any more tasks to be performed by Mars rovers?

How and Why do we send robots to Mars?

spirit mars exploration rover

Spirit Mars Exploration Rover
From NASA.

To send exploration rovers to Mars, we need to launch them via a rocket like any other satellites. Next, the satellite will reach Mars in approximately 6 months. There is a so-called "launching window" to send satellites to Mars when the Earth and its neighbor are at their nearest. The Martian year is about twice the length of the year on Earth, which cool since the planets tend to meet every two years.

Next is the orbit phase. The orbiter will slow down to take its position around Mars and spend years there analyzing the atmosphere and take high-resolution pictures of the planet. It will also release the Mars lander to let him do his job. The lander will then softly crash on the planet. If it survives (which only few landers did), it opens and releases the rover inside. The lander itself is usually a robot too, that will analyze its surroundings while the Mars rover wander around to find...

To find what? That's the next question! Why do we send these robots out there and what do we want to find on this desolated planet?

For me, I just think it's cool to have these robots travel across the Space Ocean to reach new lands. But then, my boys' dream may not be enough to justify the hundreds of millions of dollars that are spent for Mars Exploration.

Mars rovers are there for 4 main reasons:

  1. to find traces of life on Mars,

  2. to find out about the history of Mars,

  3. to analyze the current climate and daily conditions,

  4. to challenge our technology, encouraging innovations.

Task 5 Watch this Mars rover video and learn more about the rover called Opportunity.

  1. Before watching, make sure, you know the following:

to bounce (подпрыгивать), airbag cocoon, JPL, outcrop of layered bedrock (слоистая порода, вышедшая на поверхность), frigid desert, field geologists, to read clues (clue – ключ, улика), toolkit (набор инструментов), to analyze the composition, looking for evidence (знак, доказательство) of, to make a series of startling discoveries, like blueberries in a muffin, hematite ['hiːmətaɪt], water soaked rocks (камни, пропитанные водой), like pearls in oysters, ripples (зыбь, рябь).

  1. Watch the video and try to answer the questions:

  1. What do these numbers mean: 140 mln, 7?

  2. When did Opportunity land on Mars?

  3. What did the landing module look like?

  4. Why are rovers called ‘field geologists’?

  5. How many cameras does the rover have?

  6. What does it have a toolkit for?

  7. What evidence did the rover look for?

  8. What mineral was embedded in the rocks obtained by the rover?

  9. What is its property?

  10. What kind of ‘ripples’ were discovered? and what does this discovery suggest?

  1. Consult the script if you have problems answering the questions.

Mars Rover (script)

It’s morning on Mars. The sun is 140 million miles away, but strong enough to send current flowing through the solar panels on the rover called ‘Opportunity’, waking it up for another day of work. Opportunity got off to a quick start, landing in January 2004 after a seven-month journey to Mars. Touching down in a region called Meridiani Planum, it bounced across the plane in its airbag cocoon. By chance it rolled into a shallow crater. At JPL they waited for the first pictures as Opportunity emerged from its protective shell. ‘We opened our eyes and there’s this astounding outcrop of layered bedrock right in front of the vehicle.’

Mars has been a frigid desert for billions of years. But satellite images suggest that liquid water once flowed across the surface. From orbiter, it’s hard to tell whether it was an environment that could have supported life. ‘How much water was there? What was its chemistry? Suppose you were a microbe, would you have liked that place or not? If so, why?’

The rovers are field geologists designed to read clues to the environment of early Mars preserved in the rocks and minerals. Each has a toolkit on its robotic arm to grind off the weathered surface of rocks and analyze their composition. They see the world in three dimensions with four pairs of stereo cameras. Opportunity goes to work looking for evidence of ancient water, and over a few weeks makes a series of startling discoveries. ‘It was like being inside this bizarre martian mystery novel where every sol (солнечные сутки на Марсе) or two you get a new clue handed to you.’

First come tiny spheres the size of BBs* littering the ground and embedded in the outcrop like blueberries in a muffin. ‘It was such a surprise – what the heck were those things?’ The instruments find that they’re made of an iron mineral called hematite. On Earth it forms spheres like these in water soaked rocks like pearls in oysters. And finally evidence of ripples created by water flowing across the surface, frozen in time as the sand turned to stone. The clues add up to a place where salty water, virtually sulfuric acid, once silted the ground and sometimes flowed across the surface. On Earth, microbial life can thrive in places like this. ‘There wasn’t a single one of us who expected what we found. It was a new Mars.’

If Opportunity mission had ended here, it would have been a great success. But now the rover heads for a bigger deeper crater nearby, which could expose even more bedrock. ‘As we went deeper, the chemistry and the texture of the rocks changed dramatically in a way that indicated to us that deeper rocks had been soaked in water for a long period of time.’ It now appears that the water at Meridiani may have lasted hundreds of thousands if not millions of years. ‘I’d gamble that going into the crater definitely paid off scientifically. It really, really improved our understanding of what we’re dealing with here. You know, at this point, every day is a gift. We just push the vehicle as hard as we can, enjoy while we’ve got them, and some day they’re going to die, and I don’t know what……’.

However this adventure ends, their legacy is assured, they’ve returned hundreds of thousands of images, enough data on Martian water history to keep scientists busy for decades. And the most important work may be yet to come.

*BB [biː'biː] дробь диаметром 0,175 дюйма, используемая для пневматического оружия
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