Exactly how NASA pilots their rovers on the surface of Mars

In February 2021, NASA will land on its next rover, Perseverance, Mars, and an engineer from the Curiosity rover pilot team, just opened up about the process.

There is a signal delay of about 22 minutes between Earth and Mars, which means that some unique planning is needed to perform the craft on unknown land. Evan Hilzman, a NASA engineer who was selected to serve on a team of engineers who piloted the Curiosity rover, recently wrote a media post about what the experience was like.

His goal in writing the post was not only to share his unique story, but also to give everyone a little background on what’s going on behind the scenes as they watch Perseverance Drive on the Red Planet.

That’s what Hilgeman notes about piloting the rover. “Curiosity receives information on Earth only once a day and the rest of the time it is on its own. “So how can his team pilot a rover if it only gets information once a day.

The rover is piloting

For starters, the Rovers are covered with a 3D-camera that allows an accurate picture of all the area around them. In the no-board, the Rover the Tone is capable of doing plenty of tasks, such as picking up rocks with its onboard laser or driving in a pre-planned pattern. However, the robot sometimes stops and when it does, it usually grips tightly until it receives more instructions from the green planet.

The person taking the lead as the rover driver at any time has the responsibility to keep the rover safe. Successfully completing this goal means being able to see where you are going. A team of engineers has been able to develop a virtual image around the rover using navigators and hedgehogs. Hedgecams are onboard cameras that detect nearby hazards, such as rocks or ropes, and focus on more distance distances to carry out local plots.

NASA engineer explains what it means to operate a Mars rover
Diagram of rover camera layout on speed. Source: NASA / JPL

Once the engineers get a clear picture, the team has several options to send its instruction to the rover. They can send information in blind driving mode. Hilgeman notes that “blind driving There is a simple form of available navigation. In this mode, the rover will follow the specific instructions given to it but will not make any adjustments based on the actual progress. “

The second method is “visual odometry”, which is the most common method of Hilgemann notes. This method involves the Rover taking pictures of each meter at regular intervals, then comparing the images with the previous ones to see where it has moved and how the terrain has changed.

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After all, the most high-tech to operate the technology is called “on tonav”, in which the rover only “covers”100 feet an hour. “This mode is similar to self-driving in vehicles. Using its onboard hexamers and navicams, the rover can develop an image of its surroundings and automatically create a safe road map. The combined image that the rover develops looks like the image below. Colors indicate safe (green) or dangerous (red) terrain.

NASA engineer explains what it is like to operate a Mars rover
Screenshot of NASA Aut Tonav Demonstration Video. Source: NASA / JPL

The next step of diligence

Assuming everything goes according to plan to be diligent in February, Rover will begin piloting by its crew using one of the three methods described by Hilgemann. However, there is a significant risk that the rover will not reach the surface. The landing and landing phase of the drone is by far the largest opportunity for catastrophic failure in the mission.

What Hilzman adds about the new rover is a note that it is a speed monster compared to Curiosity. He adds, “The new rover will generally be able to drive at least twice as fast as the Curiosity due to new dedicated computing resources and better algorithms. The navigation of the Perseverance than the Curiosity is also in camera color and higher resolution.”

It is scheduled to land on Mars on February 18, 2021.