At the heart of Curiosity’s brains are two identical on-board computers called the Rover Compute Element (RCE), which contains radiation hardened memory in order to withstand the extreme radiation from space. Each computer contains 256 KB of EEPROM, 256 MB of DRAM and 2 GB of flash memory. The central processing unit is called the RAD750 and was made by BAE Systems. The CPU can endure radiation of over 100,000 rads and temperature ranges between -55˚ C and 70˚ C.
Curiosity is a vehicle and because it’s filled with sensitive scientific instruments and has to travel across a rugged landscape, it is equipped with an advanced IMU or Inertial Measurement Unit. The IMU provides 3-axis information on the rover’s position so Curiosity can make precise up and down, left and right and side to side movements. It also estimates the degree the rover is tilted to keep it balanced on all its wheels.
The rover’s computers constantly monitor its health especially temperature as well as performing self diagnostics. This is all in addition to performing the complex tasks such as taking pictures, driving and operating the instruments according to the command sequences given to it by the flight team here on Earth.
Next time: Looking at Curiosity’s Senses
“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.” – Samuel Johnson