Pointing Rovers Toward Sites of Astrobiology Interest On Mars

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
February 20, 2023
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Pointing Rovers Toward Sites of Astrobiology Interest On Mars
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took this selfie near rock nicknamed “Rochette,” found on Jezero Crater’s floor, on Sept. 10, 2021, the 198th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. IMAGE CREDIT: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/MSSS.

NASA-supported astrobiologists have used unmanned aerial vehicles to determine the resolution of aerial maps needed to identify specific sites of interest for rovers on Mars.

Maps of Mars that have been created using data from orbiting spacecraft are a crucial resource for mission planners. These maps are used to identify broad landing sites for future missions based on the scientific value of the area and the safety of the terrain when it comes to landing a robotic mission.

Once a rover like Perseverance makes it to its landing site, the robotic explorer moves around the area looking for specific sites that can yield clues about the geology and past habitability of Mars. The new study examines the resolution needed for aerial data to be used to identify specific sites of interest from above, rather than waiting for the rover to explore and assess where to take samples and collect data.

This image shows with a green dot where NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in Jezero Crater on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. The base image was taken by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. IMAGE CREDIT: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA.

The team of scientists used unmanned aerial vehicles to map a region of the Atacama desert in Chile called Salar de Pajonales. Using Deep Learning techniques to analyze the information gathered, they determined that data with two times the spatial resolution currently available for Mars is needed to, “move from identifying large sites based on habitability, to identifying small, specific sites based on habitats.” Obtaining higher resolution data would allow mission planners to focus on small, specific sites of interest before a robotic mission even leaves the Earth.

Planetary Mapping Using Deep Learning: A Method to Evaluate Feature Identification Confidence Applied to Habitats in Mars-Analog Terrain, Astrobiology.

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻