Pointing Rovers toward Sites of Interest
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.
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.
The study, “Planetary Mapping Using Deep Learning: A Method to Evaluate Feature Identification Confidence Applied to Habitats in Mars-Analog Terrain,” was published in the journal Astrobiology.