July 21, 2016


The French Instrument Mars OperationS Centre for MSL, FIMOC

The COMS (Centre d'Opérations des Missions Scientifiques: Scientific Mission Operations Centre) hosts, after Rosetta, Corot, T2L2, a new operation centre for the Mars Science Laboratory mission–FIMOC (French Instrument Mars Operations Centre).

FIMOC enables French engineers, technicians, and scientists from CNES and CNRS laboratories involved in the MSL mission to operate the ChemCam and Sam-GC instruments on board the Curiosity Rover during its exploration mission of Gale Crater on Mars since August 2012, for two Earth years.

The FIMOC team ensures instrument monitoring and programming as well as scientific data collection and processing.


A centre as no other:

The MSL mission involves some operational constraints. After the launch, the spacecraft cruised for about 9 months before landing the rover Curiosity on Mars.

During the cruise phase, numerous operation trainings were conducted either in France or at JPL in order to qualify the operators.

As soon as the rover was on Mars, the operations were conducted following two phases:

  • A first phase lasting 90 sols (Martian days): all the instrument teams were co-located at JPL in Los Angeles and the operations followed Mars time approach seven days a week.

  • A second phase, lasting about two years, that could be extended tofour4, is performed from the FIMOC 5 days a week and in shifted time (California time).

Curiosity operations

For ChemCham, operations are very restricting because scientific and housekeeping data must be analyzed daily; the work plan for the instrument must be prepared following a very precise activity chronology with videoconference and teleconference meetings under JPL responsibility. In order to optimize resources, the operations are conducted alternatively with LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory responsible for ChemCam instrument) by about 18-day periods.

For SAM-GC, operations are performed depending on sample collection. 74 rock samples are expected to be analyzed over the entire mission. But when a sample is analyzed by SAM, the operations last several days and the technical and scientific teams are mobilized during this time.

The FIMOC comprises:

  • one FIMOC manager,
  • 10 engineers for the operations,
  • 30 scientists for ChemCam,
  • 10 scientists for Sam-GC.