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MSL Science Corner
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- Mast Camera (Mastcam)
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- Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN)
- Mars Descent Imager (MARDI)
- MSL EDL Instrument (MEDLI) Suite
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Sampling System
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Science Planning
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Science Operations
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Science Operations

After a short period of establishing the final surface configuration, and brief engineering checkout of the health of the rover, the science mission begins. The first approximately 90 days of the mission is accomplished with all operations participants on site at JPL working what is called “Mars Time,” with personnel shifting their work days 40 minutes forward each day to follow the Mars clock and personnel on duty 24 × 7. A description of how Mars Time operations worked for the Mars Exploration Rover mission is given in Bass et al. (2005) and Mishkin et al. (2006). Operating on Mars Time and extra staffing in the tactical uplink process will allow the extension of the tactical timeline from the normal 8 hours to a two-shift, 12 to 16 hour timeline. A major objective of this period is to develop the capability to complete the tactical one-sol turnaround process in 8 hours or less.

After a portion (or all) of this initial period, the flight team begins transitioning to operate via a distributed operations network, with the central hub at JPL. This enables the remote science teams to work from their home institutions for the long duration of the mission. In the fully remote configuration, the science operations team will support 7 day per week tactical operations on Earth time (sliding between 06:00 and 20:00 Pacific time) for the second 90 days of the mission. Beyond that, for the rest of the mission, the operations team will support 5 day per week tactical operations on Earth time (multisol rover plans will be prepared for weekends and holidays).

In the sections that follow, the roles and activities of science operations personnel are classified into two broad categories, tactical and strategic. Here tactical refers to the rapid turnaround of data analysis and rover commands in support of daily operation of the MSL rover. Strategic refers to longer term activities that guide the tactical process and refine the scientific results from the mission.

Team Structure

The overall flight team structure consists of these main groups: Management, Integrated Planning and Execution (IPE), Mission Design & Navigation, Real Time Operations, Engineering Operations, and Science Operations. Operations has two components: a tactical one (near-term work necessary to plan the upcoming sol or few sols) and strategic one (longer-term work). This division of operations work and general operations structure is similar to the structure used in operations for the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission as described in Mishkin et al. (2006). The MSL Science Operations Element of the Mission System consists of one team, the Science Operations Working Group (SOWG). The SOWG includes the instrument Principal Investigators, Co-Investigators, Collaborators, Participating Scientists, Project Scientist, Deputy Project Scientists, Program Scientist, Investigation Scientists, and other science operations personnel.

The MSL SOWG is responsible for:

  • science data analysis, distribution, and archiving
  • creation of the tactical activity plan
  • instrument sequencing
  • science instrument monitoring
  • strategic science planning
  • support of MSL outreach efforts
  • timely publication of scientific results

Tactical Science Operations

The mechanism for generating and prioritizing rover and instrument science activities in support of science operations after landing on Mars will be through initiation by the Science Theme Groups (STGs) and deliberation in the Science Operations Working Group (SOWG) meetings. MSL science team members can belong to any one or more of the four MSL Science Theme Groups (see table below). Each theme group will be composed of team members representing multiple instruments, working together to analyze scientific results and to prepare science activity plans that address their group's science objectives. In the SOWG Meeting, Science Theme Group leads (STLs) will present and advocate for their group’s activity plan. In support of tactical operations, all science results and data (preliminary and updates) will be shared with the full science team, as soon as they become available. The SOWG Chair will lead the SOWG to a consensus on a tactical activity plan that meets the resource constraints and Long Term Planner strategic direction.

Science Theme Group Objectives
Organic Geochemistry and Biosignatures Chemical and isotopic composition of organic compounds in solid and gas samples and other elements/compounds of relevance to habitability

Textural, chemical, mineralogical, and isotopic biosignatures

Inorganic Geochemistry and Mineralogy Chemical, mineralogical, and isotopic composition of rocks and soils
Geology Bedrock geology, geomorphology, and stratigraphy

Rock and soil textures

Rock and soil physical properties

Atmosphere and Environment Meteorology and climate

Distribution and dynamics of water and dust

Solar, UV, and high-energy radiation

Atmospheric chemical and isotopic composition

Tactically, the science investigations of PI-led instrument teams and those of Participating Scientists will be advocated through participation in theme groups. Instrument-related concerns and advice will also be provided in SOWG meetings by the Payload Downlink and Payload Uplink Leads.

Science team tactical roles and tactical science operations meetings are described in the following tables:

Tactical Role Details
SOWG Chair Lead the Science team in all tactical science meetings including the Science Kickoff and SOWG Meetings. Attend tag-up with Mission Manager and Tactical Uplink Lead prior to each SOWG meeting. Lead the science team to a consensus for daily planning during the SOWG meeting. Adjudicate when consensus cannot be reached. Follow the uplink process as the science representative to ensure science desires are maintained. During the single shift operations, responsible for verifying that all PUL sequences have been validated.
Science Uplink Representative (SUR) Take over for the SOWG chair and documentarian part way through the uplink process during 16-hour operations (the first ~90 days). Represent science during the final stages of the uplink process and documents any changes to the science plan. Responsible for verifying that all PUL sequences have been validated. This role is merged with the SOWG chair during the 8-hour operations process (after ~the first 90 days of the mission).
SOWG Documentarian Record discussions during the Science Kickoff Meeting, SOWG meeting, and any other discussions with SOWG Chair. Document the justification for why one observation request/activity was chosen over another and any scientific breakthroughs that result in operations-critical decisions. Follow the entire uplink process documenting the rationale for daily science plan and any changes to the science plan that occur in the uplink process.
Long Term Planner (LTP) Present material during the Science Kickoff Meeting (16-hour ops) or the SOWG meeting (8-hour ops) that summarizes current rover activities, reviews liens, and presents a "sol path" that outlines activities in the near future. Ensures the tactical plan is in line with the strategic goals.
Science Theme Lead (STL) Represent a specific theme group during Science Kickoff Meeting (16-hour ops) and the SOWG meeting. Responsible for advocating for STGs desired observations. Build STG plan fragment in MSLICE (MSL Operations InterfaCE), with assistance from other theme group members and deliver to Science Planner prior to SOWG meeting. Document process related to STG and broadcast to members.
Science Theme Group (STG) Member Analyze critical science data products, developing and testing hypotheses. Support the preparation of the STL’s representation of the STG science at the Science Kickoff Meeting (16-hour ops) and the SOWG Meeting. Work with the STL to decide on science observations to request in current sol and in developing a prioritized STG plan fragment.
Payload Downlink Lead (PDL) - Instrument Specific Verify and monitor the payload health and status of all expected and received data products. Report this information, along with status/recommendation for instrument-specific consumables to SOWG. Recommend instrument performance check/diagnosis activities to the SOWG for incorporation into the science plan. Document the information, along with any assessments and recommendations to PULs/PDLs/SOWG in PDL report. Ensure production of any products necessary for tactical decision making (e.g., quick-look data products, preliminary interpretations, and preliminary derived data products).
Payload Uplink Lead (PUL) - Instrument Specific Create, validate, and deliver instrument sequences. Assess the compatibility of payload commands with operational constraints, and modify them as necessary. Support and take direction from the SOWG Chair as necessary to ensure that modified activities are consistent with the SOWG's original intent. In SOWG meetings, provide instrument advice and ask questions to understand the intent of the activity plan. Document what happened during shift in PUL report.

Science Operations Tactical Meetings
Science Kickoff Meeting The SOWG Chair leads this meeting, requesting a Long Term Planner report, instrument health updates from all the PDLs and a rover health update from the Mission Manager. The skeleton plan will be reviewed and then each STL is polled to determine their highest priority science observations for the sol and what they will bring forward to the SOWG meeting. Initial target decisions are made at this time so that either 1 clear target or a set of potential targets can be given to the Rover Planners for analysis prior to the SOWG meeting. In the 8-hour operations mode, the Kickoff meeting will be merged into the SOWG meeting.
Science & Engineering Tag-Up Formal tag-up prior to the SOWG meeting between the engineering leads and the SOWG Chair. This is where the Tactical Downlink Lead (TDL) alerts the Tactical Uplink Lead (TUL) of any engineering requests for the sol and the SOWG Chair learns of any restrictions on the rover applicable to the sol.
Science Operations Working Group (SOWG) Meeting Main tactical meeting. The SOWG Chair leads this meeting and gets a rover status update from the MM, instrument updates from the PDLs, and any comments from Rover Planners about targets for that sol. Discussion about targets takes place if necessary. The TUL steps through the skeleton plan. The Science Planner will review and edit as necessary the tactical activity plan based on feedback from the STLs and Chair. Input from the sequencing team will be incorporated into the plan as appropriate. After science and engineering have approved the tactical activity plan, the PULs make any comments, and the plan is saved and ready to be passed to the IPE team.

Activity plans will be prepared using a data visualization, target selection, and activity planning software tool called MSLICE (MSL Operations InterfaCE), which is similar to the planning tool used for the MER and Phoenix missions (Bass and Talley, 2008).

Strategic Science Operations

The PSG will give strategic (long-term) direction to the Long Term Planners (LTPs) and SOWG chairs. The Long Term Planners will develop the strategic plan for surface science. A complete list of strategic roles and descriptions of strategic meetings are given below.

Strategic Role Details
SOWG Chair Work with Tactical Uplink Lead and Science Planner to prepare a skeleton/plan for the next sol. Ensure all liens or strategic issues are captured and understood by the LTP.
Long Term Planner (LTP) Lead Science Discussions to discuss working hypotheses for recent results and overall mission results. Check with STL's individually (or in Science Discussions) to get their strategic planning inputs, and communicate relevant plan inputs from the other STGs. Strategic planning for immediate activities and “big” picture mission objectives. Work as a group (all the LTPs together) to update the Strategic Plan every month or so, as necessary. Expose the Strategic Plan to the full SOWG for feedback. Participate in PSG meetings to discuss strategic goals, explain the details/issues of the Strategic Plan to the PSG, and take strategic direction from the PSG. Participate in outreach activities.
Science Theme Leads Work with, coordinate, and lead the STG to prepare for the next sol's planning. Provide inputs on the STG's long term plan options to the LTPs, find out about other STG inputs and relay relevant information back to the STG members. Participate in outreach activities.
Science Theme Group Member Analyze science data products. Participate in Science Discussions when possible, coordinating presentation requests with the LTP. Support the validation of science data products for the Planetary Data System (PDS). Create special products for daily and weekly outreach reports, quick-release products, detailed scientific summaries, and public information releases including data captions. Participate in press conferences and outreach activities as needed. Publish results in scientific journals. Support long term science planning.
Principal Investigator (PI) - Instrument Specific Oversee the operation of a specific instrument on MSL. Act as the point of contact with the MSL Project for strategic instrument issues. Ensure that the quality of the science measurements, instrument data products, and PDL/PUL interpretations allows the science team to fully address the MSL science objectives. Support the Strategic Plan, by providing inputs to LTPs on strategic instrument issues (recommended changes in use or consumables strategy). Participate in PSG meetings to discuss strategic goals and any operations concerns. Participate in press conferences and outreach activities. Ensure their instrument team's participation in the SOWG. Ensure all data are archived in the PDS.
Payload Element Lead (PEL) - Instrument Specific Assist the instrument PI in meeting their responsibilities. Coordinate science operations associated with the specific instrument. The PI may delegate to a PEL the responsibility for PDL/PUL staffing, training, and scheduling, and PI-provided infrastructure support. The PEL may be on call for issues that cannot be solved by the PDL/PUL when the PI is unavailable. The PEL may be tasked to ensure that higher-level products are generated and shared with the Project. The PEL may be tasked to ensure that PDS archiving and Project data sharing meets the schedule.
Payload Downlink Lead (PDL) - Instrument Specific Process and calibrate all data products received and make them available to the science team. Assess instrument performance long-term trends.
Payload Uplink Lead (PUL) - Instrument Specific Support long term activity sequencing of instruments and suggest updates to the Activity Dictionary, as necessary.


Science Operations Strategic Meetings
Project Science Group Meeting The PSG will convene on a daily to weekly basis, or as often as necessary (could be daily to weekly), to discuss strategic issues, staffing and scheduling of SOWG roles, use of consumables, press releases, and press conferences, etc. They will also prepare guidance for the Long Term Planners and SOWG Chairs to follow.
Science Discussion Meeting The LTP leads this discussion where science team members are able to present science results, reach agreements about downlink data product re-prioritization requests, discuss working hypotheses, and talk about strategic plans. Daily meeting at the beginning of the mission, then later happening weekly or as needed.
PI Team Meeting PIs will convene instrument team meetings to discuss strategies for operations, scientific hypotheses, and findings.
MSL Science Team Meeting The MSL Project will convene an MSL Science Team Meeting approximately once every 6 months to discuss status, results, and strategies.

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