NASA software to help Mars rover find safe sites for winter

December 12th, 2007 - 1:47 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 12 (ANI): NASA has developed a new software that is helping the Spirit Rover to find safe havens for the winter and also plan where it will explore in the future.

The Ohio State software uses images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It compares those images to panoramas taken by the rovers on the ground to precisely map features on the surface.

The new software has already determined that Von Braun, a steep Martian mesa ( an elevated area of land with a flat top and sides that are usually steep cliffs), would be a safe winter site for Spirit.

It used satellite images, as well as rover images, to determine that Von Braun’s more than 25-degree incline is steep enough for the rover’s solar panels to gather critical energy from the low winter sun.

But, the only problem that the rover would face en route to Von Braun si the lack of safe winter sites where it could hide out in a pinch.

The path that Spirit would have to follow to get there is a little too risky to travel with winter on the way, explained Ron Li, professor of civil and environmental engineering and geodetic science at Ohio State University.

The software found out that if the Spirit sets out on the 400-foot journey to Von Braun and is unable to reach it, there are not enough bail out spots along the route where it could take refuge.

Even in ideal driving conditions, the trip would take a number of days. And with the winter approaching, Spirit might need to stop at steep slopes where it could better angle its solar panels to gather light.

“Once we identified Von Braun as a good winter site, our job was to help the rover find a safe path there from Home Plate, and identify a few ‘bail out’ spots in case anything happened in between,” said Li. “But we couldn’t find any bail out spots with a steep enough slope,” he added.

But scientists hope that the new software will help them identify safe Martian sites.

The software will also help scientists identify Martian surface features that the rovers can investigate.

“HiRISE gives us 0.3-meter (one foot) resolution on the ground, so we can combine those orbital images with ground images to identify rocks from the orbiter and the ground,” said Li. The key is to combine panoramas taken by the rovers to give a wide view of the terrain. The rover takes one panorama, then travels a distance from several feet to 300 feet, depending on the terrain and tasks it’s performing at the time, he added.

The software is also able to calculate where features on the landscape are located, and match them to features on HiRISE images at high accuracy. (ANI)

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