Away Teams & Field Reports

AwayTeam Tech: Distributed Instruments for Planetary Surface Science: Scientific Opportunities and Technology Feasibility

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
July 5, 2024
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AwayTeam Tech: Distributed Instruments for Planetary Surface Science: Scientific Opportunities and Technology Feasibility
Proposed design reference missions for exploration of Venus (left) and Mars (right) (Beauchamp et al. 2018; Lyness et al. 2019).

In this paper, we assess the scientific promise and technology feasibility of distributed instruments for planetary science. A distributed instrument is an instrument designed to collect spatially and temporally correlated data from multiple networked, geographically distributed point sensors.

Distributed instruments are ubiquitous in Earth science, where they are routinely employed for weather and climate science, seismic studies and resource prospecting, and detection of industrial emissions. However, to date, their adoption in planetary surface science has been minimal.

It is natural to ask whether this lack of adoption is driven by low potential to address high-priority questions in planetary science; immature technology; or both. To address this question, we survey high-priority planetary science questions that are uniquely well-suited to distributed instruments.

We identify four areas of research where distributed instruments hold promise to unlock answers that are largely inaccessible to monolithic sensors, namely, weather and climate studies of Mars; localization of seismic events on rocky and icy bodies; localization of trace gas emissions, primarily on Mars; and magnetometry studies of internal composition. Next, we survey enabling technologies for distributed sensors and assess their maturity.

We identify sensor placement (including descent and landing on planetary surfaces), power, and instrument autonomy as three key areas requiring further investment to enable future distributed instruments. Overall, this work shows that distributed instruments hold great promise for planetary science, and paves the way for follow-on studies of future distributed instruments for Solar System in-situ science.

Federico Rossi, Robert C. Anderson, Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay, Erik Brandon, Ashish Goel, Joshua Vander Hook, Michael Mischna, Michaela Villarreal, Mark Wronkiewicz

Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Multiagent Systems (cs.MA); Atmospheric and Oceanic Physics (; Geophysics (physics.geo-ph)
Cite as: arXiv:2407.01757 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2407.01757v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
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Submission history
From: Federico Rossi
[v1] Mon, 1 Jul 2024 19:41:41 UTC (34,588 KB)

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) 🖖🏻