Sending messages from Mars: Interplanetary broadband

Glenn Fleishman writes in the Economist about how Curiosity sends messages home from Mars: "NASA'S Curiosity has the fastest modem on Mars. Since its only competition is an oldish bit of kit aboard Opportunity, one of two rovers dispatched in 2003, that is not saying much, at least in terms of what internet users on Earth have learned to expect. Curiosity's ability to capture images and other data easily outstrips its capacity to beam it all back home. Nonetheless, it delivers vastly more information from the red planet than any previous mission did."


  1. Does anyone know if Curiosity has the ability to record and transmit sound back from Mars? Any guesses on what Mars would sound like?

    1. Yeah.  And it really pisses off the Martians who are trying to play online games when it does a big data dump, too.

  2. So Curiosity generates more information than it can “unload”.  If there’s an inherent bottleneck in the system, how is it decided what to transmit back to Earth in high-res?

    One way of doing it would be Curiosity streaming thumbnails, then back on Earth scientists narrow down the intriguing ones and send the command, requesting those bazillion-pixel images from Discovery.

    EDIT: Discovery? I meant Curiosity. Sorry, Dave.

  3. a quick back of the envelope calculation shows that

    – the MRO has sent back 174TB of data, for a cost of $720M (not sure if that’s only the spacecraft, or the whole mission)

    – The global average price for an SMS message is $0.11 (140 bytes)

    – it’s still somewhere in the neighborhood of 200x more expensive to send an SMS to your friend across town that it is to send the same message halfway across the friggin solar-system.

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