Mars Pathfinder Rover Engineering Dataset Description

Table of Contents

Data Set Overview

The rover engineering files on this CD contain raw and reduced (engineering unit) values for each and every rover channel as defined within the Missions Ground Data System Channel Parameter Table (CPT) configuration file.



Each of the rover data files contain 380 columns of channelized data (i.e., 380 individual channels) and 5 additional columns containing the Sol number and the four time values SCLK, SCET, ERT, and LST as described below. Each channel has a unique channel identifier of the form E-nnnn or R-nnnn (i.e., the letter 'E' or 'R' followed by a hyphen and a four digit number). The channel identifiers are contained in the header rows of each '.CSV' file, and in the PDS labels of the '.TAB' files.

The identifiers can be used as a cross reference into the Rover Telemetry Dictionary and into the Channel Parameter Table (CPT) and Channel Conversion Language (CCL) configuration files. Note that there are many more channels contained within these data files than there are channels defined within the Rover Telemetry Dictionary. The reason for this is that during mission operations it was advantageous for the ground data system to generate synthesized channels in order to drive a variety of real-time display tools.

Channels which do not appear in the 'ch_id' column of the Rover Telemetry Dictionary are synthesized channels and have been derived on the ground via one of several methods. These include generation during initial decommutation of the rover telemetry messages by the ground data system decommutation program 'ccsds_tlm' or by the derived channel algorithms written and contained within the missions CCL configuration file.

There are a number of channels (i.e., columns) within the rover data files on this CD which do not contain any data. This is not an error or omission in the data files but rather an artifact of the fact that a number of channels were initially defined earlier in the development of the ground data system but never used.

As a consequence of the existence of synthesized channels and the particular needs of the real-time display tools used during mission operations, you will notice what appears to be a multiplicity in the number of measurements of the same logical value (i.e, the X accelerometer measurements) at the same instant in time. For example, every instant of time that a value appears in the data tables for channel R-2550 ('Rover X Position, Start' ... see Rover Telemetry Dictionary, Section 5.0) you will see the same value appearing in the column for channel R-0500, but not vice versa. Channel R-2550 is defined to be a 'unique channel' as opposed to a 'common channel'.

'Unique channels' contain measurements made of a particular logical value during the execution of a specific set of rover commands (one or more). The 'common channels', in general, contain all measurements of a logical value regardless of which command was actually responsible for taking the measurement. Hence, unique channels are much more sparsely populated with actual data than are the common channels.

Channel Ordering

The 380 columns of channelized rover data contained with the rover data files are ordered by channel identifiers starting with the E-nnnn channels first (in ascending numeric order) followed by the R-nnnn channels (in ascending numeric order). As a consequence of this and the way in which the rover channels were initially defined, channels which are normally associated with one another (e.g., common and unique X accelerometer measurements do not appear in adjacent columns within the file. The user can easily rearrange the columns in any fashion so desired. Note the channel identifiers are NOT sequential (e.g., 3,4,5). There are gaps in the identifier numbering. These are not missing channels they are simply channel identifiers which were never used.

Row Ordering

The data files SOLxx_DN.TAB and SOLxx_EU.TAB vary in length from Sol to Sol. Within each file the rows are time ordered based upon the time at which the measurement was taken by the rover (or at least the time the rover thought it was ... see the section 'Limitations - Timestamping Anomalies' later in this document). The data contained within the files within directory 'RVR_ENG/SOLxx/' corresponds to measurements actually taken (i.e, acquired by) by the rover on the 'xx-th' sol of the mission as opposed to when the information was received on earth. The later information is contained within the 'ERT' column or each file.

Image Data

The files SOLxx_DN.TAB and SOLxx_EU.TAB contain channels of information relating to the characteristics and conditions under which the rover took images using its three cameras (e.g., exposure time, temperature). The actual image data (i.e, the pixel values), however, was not channelized and hence is not contained within these engineering data files. Rover images (i.e., images taken by the rover's cameras are available elsewhere on this CD).

APXS Spectra Data

The files SOLxx_DN.TAB and SOLxx_EU.TAB contain several channels of data associated with measurements from the Alpha Proton X-Ray Spectrometer Instrument which was onboard the Sojourner Vehicle. These channels contain a mix of ancillary data as well as the actual spectra data. The separation of the ancillary data from the actual spectra data is accommodated within these data products. Instead special software tools elsewhere in the ground data system were used to process the telemetered data and actually convert it into spectra and ancillary data sets. The processed/decommutated spectra data are archived elsewhere on this CD.


There are 75 subdirectories within the rover engineering data directory, one for each Martian Day (Sol) of the surface mission and one for each of the two cruise health checks (i.e., 'cruise1', and 'cruise2'). (Directories containing no data were deleted.) The name of each directory contains the Sol number (e.g., SOL45 corresponding to the forty fifth day on Mars). Each directory contains two (2) compressed data files and two PDS labels.

The data files have been compressed using the ZIP compression utility. The decompression utility UNZIP is widely available. Information about where it can be obtained, and source code (if necessary), is provided in the SOFTWARE/ directory on this CD.

The files SOLxx_DN.ZIP contain the DN (data number) values for each and every rover channel as defined within the Missions Ground Data System Channel Parameter Table (CPT) configuration file. The files named SOLxx_EU.ZIP contain the EU (engineering unit) values for each and every rover channel as defined within the Missions Ground Data System CPT file, if and only if the channel was defined to have an engineering unit conversion. For those channels which no such conversion was defined, the SOLxx_EU.ZIP file contains the DN value.

Each compressed file contains a copy of the PDS label, and two versions of the data file. One of these versions, with the file extension '.TAB', is formatted according to PDS standards for tables and is fully described by the PDS label. The other version of the data file, with extension '.CSV', is a simple comma-separated value table. Both versions of the tables are large and relatively sparsely filled.

The PDS formatted tables are formatted so that they can be read directly into many data management systems. All fields are separated by commas, and character fields are enclosed in double quotation marks. Character fields are left justified, and numeric fields are right justified. Each record ends with the ASCII carriage return <CR> and line feed <LF> characters. The '.LBL' files are PDS label files that describe the content and structure of the fields in their corresponding tables, including field name, format, and description. The values for start byte and number of bytes listed in the label file do not include commas between fields or quotation marks surrounding character fields.

The '.CSV' files are saved in Comma Separated Value (CSV) file format. Newlines within the file indicate the start of a new row within the table and commas (,) mark the separation between columns within the table. The files are in ASCII format and are designed to be read into most spreadsheet type applications programs (e.g., Microsoft Excel) or processed using relatively simple text parsing scripts/programs. Given that the '.CSV' files are significantly smaller in size than the PDS-formatted files, they may be easier to load into some database or spreadsheet programs. The '.CSV' files all have four header lines which describe the contents of the fields.

Each column within these files corresponds to a specific channel of data. The channel number, format specification (C programming style print format used originally to generate the channel by the ground data system), DN or EU designation, and units of measurement for each column is contained within the first four rows of each file (in the '.CSV' files) or in the PDS label (for the '.TAB' files). In the case of the SOLxx_EU files, if there was no conversion algorithm in the ground data system to convert the DN value to EU values, the corresponding header value for that column will have a value of 'DN'. There are a few columns which do not have DN/EU designators and/or channel numbers. These included the first three columns which contain the Sol number, local standard time (i.e., Martian time at the landing site), and the SpaceCraft Event Time (SCET); and the last two columns which contain the Spacecraft Clock (SCLK) and the Earth Receive Time (ERT), respectively.

Each row within the table (with the exception of the first four 'header rows' in the '.CSV' files) corresponds to a particular instant in time at which one or more measurements were taken by the rover and telemetered back to earth. The time at which the measurement(s) were taken is indicated by the SOL/LST, SCET, and SCLK time values contained within each and every row. There are approximately 380 channels of data contained with each of the rover data files. Only a few channels are measured at any instant in time and hence these tables are VERY sparsely populated.

All of the rover data files have exactly the same number of columns. In addition, the i-th column of every file corresponds to the same rover data channel although in the SOLxx_EU files the actual values for the channel may be in EUs as opposed to DNs.

The pairs of files SOLxx_DN and SOLxx_EU contained within each sol directory have exactly the same number of rows and columns. Within a particular sol directory, the i-th row in file SOLxx_DN and SOLxx_EU will always correspond to the same instant in time. The number of rows within the SOLxx_DN and SOLxx_EU files, however will vary from sol directory to sol directory depending upon how much information was collected by the rover.

The fixed and consistent format of the data files SOLxx_DN, and similarly for the SOLxx_EU files, are such that files from different sols can be simply concatenated in order to create multi-sol data files to support multi-sol analyses (albeit you will most likely want to first delete the first four 'header' rows from all but the first of concatenated files).

Ancillary Data

The Rover Telemetry Dictionary, mentioned above, can be found in the DOCUMENT/ROVERDOC/TLMDICT/ directory on this CD.


Complete documentation about the UNZIP decompression software necessary to decompress these files is available in the SOFTWARE/ directory on this CD.

These tables can be read using many database or spreadsheet software packages. However, the length of the records or the large number of columns may pose difficulties for some software.

If you need assistance finding software that can be used to decompress or display these tables, please contact the PDS operator at the following address:

Address: Planetary Data System, PDS Operator
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109
Phone: (818) 354-4321

Media / Format

The Rover Engineering data is stored on compact disc-read only memory (CD-ROM) media. The CD is formatted according to ISO-9660 and PDS standards. The data files do not include extended attribute records (XARs), and are therefore not readable on some older VMS operating systems.


Prior to release, the data will be reviewed by the Rover Team and the Planetary Data System.

Data Coverage and Quality

Derived Channel Data Anomalies

Due to limitations within the capabilities of the Channel Conversion Language (CCL) portion of the Mars PathFinder (MPF) Ground Data System (GDS), a number of rover derived channels contain 'bogus' values which are not explicitly indicated as such in the rover data files contained on the CD. These values should be replaced by 'INVALID' markers by the user prior to analysis. The algorithm(s) for determining which values are bogus are described below along with a list of potentially affected channels.

Pitch, Roll, Tilt:

Derived Channels:


Corrective Action:

If any value for DN and/or EU of any of the above listed channels is greater than '45.0' the value is INVALID.


The above channels, which correspond to angular values (i.e, in degrees) of the rover's pitch, roll, and tilt, are derived by a Channel Conversion Language (CCL) routine which takes the actual measurements of the rover's three linear accelerometers and converts them to an angular measurements using simple sine and cosine functions.

If the value of the accelerometer reading was greater than 1 Mars G (= 3/8 of an earth G) the CCL algorithm would generate one of several bogus values (e.g., 360.0, 361.0, 362.0). This was done because the ground data system was unable to mix data types within a channel. Hence, you couldn't literally put in the value 'INVALID' for the above derived channels since these channels were defined to be floating point numbers.

Now you ask, why would the accelerometers ever read more than 1 Mars G. The answer is we don't exactly know but such raw measurements were intermittently obtained during the later part of the mission.

Other Channel Data Anomalies


Due to limitations within the capabilities of the Channel Parameter Table (CPT) portion of the Mars PathFinder (MPF) Ground Data System (GDS), a number of rover non-derived channel, engineering unit representations of the actual DN value contain 'misleading' information if not properly interpreted. These values should be replaced by markers indicating that these particular entries/values have special significance.

Temperature Measurements

The first example of potentially misleading values is in the case of the temperature sensors. The rover's temperature sensors and temperature sensor electronics interface were such that if a temperature sensor became disconnected from the rover's electronics (e.g., a broken wire or bad solder joint) the analog input signal sent to the rover's Analog to Digital converter would be 'pulled high' causing the A/D converter to saturate in turn producing a telemetered temperature reading of '7FF' (HEX).

The ground data system was not capable of detecting this prior to converting it to a engineering unit temperature value and stuffing that value into the channels EU value field. While the conversion function for each temperature sensor is different (i.e., they were individually calibrated) a DN value of 7FF will produce an EU value of approximately 77°C.

The point is that if you see any EU temperature values in the SOLxx_EU files in the range of 77°C you should correlate this with the DN value in the corresponding SOLxx_DN file to confirm that the EU value should actually be replaced by a marker such as 'OUT_OF_RANGE'. Such measurements were obtained during the later portion of the mission on one of the front wheel temperature sensors. During the beginning of the mission this sensor was producing consistently reasonable measurements. later in the mission it began saturating whenever it starting getting cold (e.g., early in the morning and at night). Eventually, it produced only the saturated value. We have hypothesized that the wire to the sensor and/or one of the related solder joints failed during the mission due to thermal cycling.

Laser Spot Measurements

Channels R-1400 through R-1419 correspond to measurements of the height of terrain in front of the rover at 20 distinct point (i.e., a 4 x 5 grid of points). The EU values for these channels measure the height of the terrain at these points in millimeters measured relative to where the lasers would have detected the surface to be terrain to be had the rover been sitting on a flat surface. Negative values mean there is a depression (e.g., drop off) and positive values represent the presence of an obstacle (e.g., a rock).

What is important to remember when analyzing this data is that if the rover was unable to detect the location of the laser spot on the surface it would send a telemetry value of 7FFF/-128 HEX/DECIMAL). Analogous to the temperature sensor issue described above, the Ground Data System is/was incapable of marking these values so that they would be interpreted to mean 'SPOT NOT DETECTED'. Hence, scientists/engineers analyzing the laser data on this CD should do this so as not to misinterpret the results. In the files containing the EU values for these channels the DN value of 7FFF/-128 (HEX/DECIMAL) gets converted into a value of -179.2 mm. EU values of -179.2 mm should likewise be replaced with a 'SPOT NOT DETECTED' marker in the SOLxx_EU files. The bottom line is that such values should NOT be interpreted to mean that the rover drove up to hole/cliff that was 179.2 mm deep!

There are several reasons why the rover's hazard detection system (i.e., camera/laser system) would fail to detect/see the spot generated by one of it's lasers. One such reason is that it is possible for the rover to physically attain a kinematic configuration in which either the front right or front left wheels are positioned high enough (via the rocker-bogie suspension system) that the wheel actually blocks the projection of the lasers output beam and hence the camera(s) are unable to detect the beam on the surface of the ground.

The remaining reasons for the existence of the 'SPOT NOT DETECTED' values are all associated with the physical geometry of the terrain and the relative positioning of the cameras and lasers to one another. Fundamentally, the camera/laser detection system is based upon measuring distances via triangulation between the emitted laser beam and the line of sight from the camera to the spot on the terrain illuminated by the laser. Obviously there must be a clear line of sight between the camera and the actual physical spot on the terrain which is illuminated by the laser in order for the camera to see the spot. There are, however, situations in which the laser beam can enter a very sharp depression in the terrain, such as in the case of hitting a point within a small hole in a vesicular rock, and the line of sight from this spot to the camera is obstructed by the sharp/steep walls of the hole. In such a case, the rover would not be able to detect the spot at all and it was therefore programmed to generate a value of 7FFF in the telemetry data for the measurement.


Timestamping Anomalies

The Sojourner rover did NOT have an independently powered mission clock circuit. As a consequence, when the rover's batteries were finally exhausted on Sol 58 the rover no longer had an accurate means for knowing what time it was when it automatically woke up via solar power and the lander was unavailable (i.e., it's rover modem was not yet powered on) to provide an clock/time update. This situation unfortunately creates a number of complications in terms of analyzing rover data collected after Sol 58, particularly, data taken during the early morning hours prior to the rover getting an clock update from the lander.

The thing to remember when analyzing the rover data for Sols 58 and beyond is that the rover executes one command at a time (i.e., serially) and executes them in 'command sequence number' order (e.g., command 61001 is executed prior to command 61002, etc). Thus, any regressions in the command sequence numbers contained in these files as time increases is a clear indication that a block of data taken by the rover that morning was incorrectly timestamped. Note that the relative timestamping within the block is correct its just that the entire block is offset in time from when it was actually taken.

A simple example of the situation that occurs should help to explain the situation. Consider the situation in which the rover automatically wakes up via solar power at 7:00 am (LST). Also assume that the lander's rover modem was not yet powered on at this time and hence when the rover, during wakeup, tries to get a clock update from the lander it cannot. Under these conditions, the rover sets its mission clock according to its best estimate of what time it is which happens to correspond to the last time it was instructed to wake up. Lets say that time was 10:00 am. The rover then begins/continues to execute its active command sequence and time stamps the data starting with 10:00 am on. Lets also say, for expository purposes, that the rover executes five commands with command sequence numbers 61005, 61006, 61007, 61008, 61009 and the data from command 61009 is taken at 7:30 am (LST). Because the rover's clock is off the data from command 61009 is timestamped as having been collected at 10:30 am (LST).

Now assume that at 7:31 am (LST), the lander powers up it's rover modem and that after executing command 61009 the rover performs one of its automatic and/or commanded attempts to contact the lander to get a clock update. The rover does so receiving and an update which indicates that the current time is 7:31 am and sets it's mission clock accordingly. Then command 61010 is executed. The telemetry data collected by this command is then timestamped as having been taken at 7:31 am.

In the rover data files which are time ordered by SCET, you will find the block of commands 61005-61009 appearing after the data entries (i.e, rows) containing the data collected by command 61010. Again, this situation is relatively easy to detect in the data files by simply looking at the ordering of the command sequence numbers for each entry (i.e., row).

Ideally, the thing to do is to take the timestamps on the data entries for commands 61005-61009 and subtract 3 hours (10:00am - 7:00am) from each. Unfortunately, their is no precise way to back calculate what time the rover actually woke up. The wakeup time is a function of many unknown variables including actual (not measured) vehicle orientation, tilt, optical density of the atmosphere on that particular morning, and electrical performance of the solar array to name a few. While one can, with some work, come up with a reasonable estimate we have not done so to the rover data contained within the rover data files on this CD.

Finally, depending upon the timing involved (e.g., the length of time it takes the rover to execute the commands 61005-61009 in the example above, the actual time that the rover wakes up, and the actual time at which rover is first able to get a clock update from the lander) it is possible for the block of commands 61005-61009 in our example to be interlaced with commands 61010 and above. This makes rearranging the data files to be in actual time order more complicated and is a process not easily automated.

Related Information


Mars Pathfinder

Instrument Host

Mars Pathfinder Rover (Microrover Flight Experiment)


PDS Welcome to the Planets: Mars
PDS High Level Catalog: Mars

Web page author Henry W. Stone