31st Annual Meeting of the DPS, October 1999
Session 8. Science and Technology of Future Space Missions Posters
Poster Group I, Monday-Wednesday, October 11, 1999, , Kursaal Center

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[8.18] Autonomous Onboard Science Image Analysis for Future Mars Rover Missions

V.C. Gulick, R.L. Morris (NASA-Ames/SETI Inst.), M.A. Ruzon (Stanford Univ.), T.L. Roush (NASA-Ames)

To explore high priority landing sites and to prepare for eventual human exploration, future Mars missions will involve rovers capable of traversing tens of kilometers. However, the current process by which scientists interact with a rover does not scale to such distances. Specifically, numerous command cycles are required to complete even simple tasks, such as, pointing the spectrometer at a variety of nearby rocks. In addition, the time required by scientists to interpret image data before new commands can be given and the limited amount of data that can be downlinked during a given command cycle constrains rover mobility and achievement of science goals. Experience with rover tests on Earth supports these concerns. As a result, traverses to science sites as identified in orbital images would require numerous science command cycles over a period of many weeks, months or even years, perhaps exceeding rover design life and other constraints.

Autonomous onboard science analysis can address these problems in two ways. First, it will allow the rover to transmit only ``interesting’’ images, defined as those likely to have higher science content. Second, the rover will be able to anticipate future commands. For example, a rover might autonomously acquire and return spectra of ``interesting’’ rocks along with a high-resolution image of those rocks in addition to returning the context images in which they were detected. Such approaches, coupled with appropriate navigational software, help to address both the data volume and command cycle bottlenecks that limit both rover mobility and science yield.

We are developing fast, autonomous algorithms to enable such intelligent on-board decision making by spacecraft. Autonomous algorithms developed to date have the ability to identify rocks and layers in a scene, locate the horizon, and compress multi-spectral image data. Output from these algorithms could be used to autonomously obtain rock spectra, determine which images should be transmitted to the ground, or to aid in image compression. We will discuss these and other algorithms and demonstrate their performance during a recent rover field test.

If you would like more information about this abstract, please follow the link to http://web99.arc.nasa.gov/~vgulick/GSOM/gsom.html. This link was provided by the author. When you follow it, you will leave the Web site for this meeting; to return, you should use the Back comand on your browser.

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