With $3M NASA Grant, UArizona Scientists Will Take a look at Mars Exploration Drones in Iceland
From: University of Arizona
Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2021
A staff of scientists led by Christopher Hamilton of the College of Arizona is gearing as much as ship drones on exploration missions throughout an enormous lava subject in Iceland to check a next-generation Mars exploration idea.
Hamilton is the principal investigator on a undertaking that has been awarded a $3.1 million NASA grant to develop a brand new idea combining rovers and unmanned aerial programs, generally often known as drones, to discover areas of the crimson planet which were beforehand inaccessible. These new Rover–Aerial Car Exploration Networks can be examined in Iceland to discover volcanic terrains much like these noticed on Mars.
NASA chosen the RAVEN undertaking as one among solely 4 proposals out of 48 proposals competing for funding from NASA’s Planetary Science and Expertise Via Analog Analysis program.
RAVEN provides a wholly new method to NASA’s paradigm of planetary exploration, which historically has centered round 4 steps, every constructing on the scientific findings of the earlier one: flyby, orbit, land and rove, in keeping with Hamilton, an affiliate professor within the UArizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory who oversees a staff of 20 scientists and engineers concerned within the RAVEN undertaking.
The primary spacecraft despatched to a beforehand unvisited physique within the photo voltaic system generally executes a flyby cross to gather as many knowledge as doable to tell subsequent robotic missions, which include one other area probe positioned into orbit, then a lander, which research the floor in a single place, and, lastly, a rover constructed to maneuver round to go to and analyze numerous factors of scientific curiosity.
“With RAVEN, we’re including ‘fly’ to that record,” Hamilton mentioned. “And never solely that – the entire idea is actually geared in direction of constructing new know-how and procedures for 2 robots to work collectively on an extraterrestrial physique. We’re going to take a look at how a rover and a drone can work collectively to maximise the scientific output of such a mission.”
When the RAVEN staff members seemed for appropriate proving grounds that would supply a sensible backdrop for his or her work, they discovered it in an enormous lava subject within the highlands of Iceland. This pristine space is otherworldly sufficient that NASA used it in getting ready the Apollo astronauts for strolling on the moon. After intensive exploration, the staff homed in on the Holuhraun lava move subject, created by an eruption solely 5 years in the past.
“It is among the latest actual property on this planet,” Hamilton mentioned in regards to the barren panorama, which is devoid of vegetation or topsoil. “What makes it particularly fascinating to us is that the lava was emplaced in a sandy space, which is similar to what some Martian terrains appear like.”
Analog landscapes, resembling Holuhraun, are invaluable to planetary scientists as a result of they supply the subsequent neatest thing to an alien world proper right here on Earth. Typically formed by related geologic processes as their extraterrestrial counterparts, they function life like mock environments to arrange explorers – each human and robotic – to securely navigate the true factor. A significant problem in exploring younger volcanic terrains on Mars is that the surfaces are too tough for a rover to traverse. RAVEN will open new alternatives for exploration by enabling a rover and drone to work collectively. The drone will present reconnaissance to scout the perfect path ahead, and even be capable of acquire and return distant samples which are inaccessible to the rover.
“Volcanic terrains provide thrilling targets for exploration due to their potential to generate liveable hydrothermal programs, which might help or protect microbial life,” Hamilton mentioned. “RAVEN would make such areas accessible for the primary time.”
RAVEN builds upon current developments in drone know-how – such because the Mars Helicopter, accompanying NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, which launched final July, and the DragonFly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan.
RAVEN will present a take a look at platform for progressive applied sciences like distant pattern acquisition and navigation based mostly on computer-generated, 3D terrain fashions. Insights gathered throughout the three-year length of the RAVEN undertaking will instantly inform next-generation follow-up missions to NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 mission, which is able to embody a light-weight, twin-rotor drone named Ingenuity that can be used as a know-how demonstration to check powered flight on Mars for the primary time.
“As soon as Mars Helicopter demonstrates the flexibility to fly on Mars, we’d design the next-generation system capabilities,” Hamilton mentioned. “Particularly, we would be taking a look at what you’ll do with the next-generation structure.”
A centerpiece of the undertaking is the RAVEN Claw, a prototype grabbing gadget hooked up to a drone that may be configured in numerous methods, for instance to select up rocks or scoop up sand, and to return cached samples to the rover. Additionally examined can be different payload configurations, together with lidar, hyperspectral imaging and drilling know-how.
Lidar, which is a technique for measuring distances utilizing laser gentle, is what allowed the UArizona-led OSIRIS-REx pattern return mission to maneuver a spacecraft into the closest orbit ever achieved round a photo voltaic system physique.
A hyperspectral imaging digital camera allows RAVEN to see gentle of many wavelengths, promising better scientific return from native operations by enhancing the scouting that directs the rover to the goal location.
“It’s a testomony to the College of Arizona’s long-standing monitor document in planetary exploration that NASA continues to belief our consultants with discovering options to a few of our greatest challenges,” mentioned College of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. “RAVEN is not any exception, as this undertaking is a part of the daring imaginative and prescient to land people on Mars within the not-too-distant future. I’m excited to see the place this undertaking will lead.”
The RAVEN undertaking brings collectively establishments in three nations: the College of Arizona, the California Institute of Expertise/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Honeybee Robotics, the College of Tennessee and United States Geological Survey within the U.S.; the College of Western Ontario, the Canadian Area Company and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. in Canada; and the College of Iceland and Vatnajökull Nationwide Park Service in Iceland.
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