Exactly how NASA pilots its rovers on the surface of Mars


In February of 2021, NASA will launch an engineer from its next rover, firmness, and curiosity rover pilot team on the surface of Mars, a process similar to that.

There is a signal delay of about 22 minutes between Earth and Mars, meaning that moving the craft over unknown terrain requires some unique planning. NASA engineer Ivan Hilgemann, who was selected to serve the team of engineers driving the Curiosity Rover, recently wrote a medium post to describe what the experience was like.

His goal in writing the post was not just to share his unique story, but to give everyone a glimpse of the Perseverance Drive across the Red Planet, which was going on behind the scenes.

The first thing about piloting a rover is that Hilgemann states that “Curiosity receives information from the Earth only once a day and the rest of the time is on its own. “So how does his team pilot a rover if it only gets information once a day?

Pilot the rover

For starters, the Rovers are covered in 3D-cameras that allow an accurate picture of all their environments. With on-board sensors, the rover is capable of performing a lot of tasks autonomously, such as pickup and scanning rocks with its onboard laser or drive in a pre-planned pattern. However, the robot sometimes gets stuck and when it does, it usually stays tight until it receives more instructions from the green planet.

The person taking the lead as a rover driver at any time has the responsibility of keeping the rover safe. Successfully accomplishing this goal means being able to see where you are going. The team of engineers have used novices and hazards, capable of developing a virtual image of the rover’s surroundings. Hazards consist of onboard cameras, which are close-up hazards, such as rocks or stairs, and for novice local plotting to focus on the distance ahead.

A diagram of the rover camera layout on persistence. Source: NASA / JPL

As soon as the engineers get a clear picture to send instructions to the rover, the team has a few options. They can send information in blind driving mode. Hilgemann stated that “driving blind The simplest form of navigation available. In this mode, the rover will follow the specific instructions given to it but will not make any adjustments based on actual progress. “

Another method is “visual odometry”, the most common method being Hilgemann notes. This method essentially involves the rover taking pictures at regular intervals about each interval, then comparing the images to previous photos to see where it has moved and how the terrains have changed.

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Finally, the most high-end technology to run is called “Autonav”, which the rover can only cover “100 feet in an hour. “This mode is like self-driving in vehicles. When used onboard hazards and on boats, the rover can develop an image of its surroundings and autonomously map safe paths. The overall image develops like a rover image Below is indicated the safe (green) or dangerous (red) terrain with various colors.

NASA engineer told how to drive Mars Rover
Screenshot from NASA Autonv Demonstration Video. Source: NASA / JPL

Next steps of perseverance

Everything goes according to plan for perseverance in February, with the Rover starting to be experimental using one of the three methods described by its crew. However, there is a significant risk that the rover will not reach the surface. The descent and landing phase of the drone is by far the greatest opportunity for catastrophic failure in the mission.

A note Hilgemann said about the new Rover is that it is more like a speed demon than Curiosity. He says, “The new Rover will typically be able to drive at least twice as fast. Thanks to Curiosity for new dedicated computing resources and improved algorithms. Persistence navigation cameras also tend to be higher in color and higher resolution than Curiosity Huh.”

Perseverance is scheduled to land on Mars on 18 February 2021.

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