One of the most famous quotes from Interstellar ‘Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here”, throws light on the intrinsic fear that we all have. Fear of being extinct. Mankind wants to leave the planet Earth, thus escaping extinction. And this is the motif behind all missions of Mars.
Since 1960’s, numerous attempts have made towards exploration of the Red Planet. NASA, SpaceX, few other space agencies and governments across globe have sent probes from Earth to Mars with the hope of better understanding its geology and environment. However, habitability and search for life on Mars is still an ongoing process.
To take things to the next level, NASA is planning to send helicopter to Mars in its subsequent mission, Mars 2020. These copters will assist the already existing ground rovers. Aim of this add-on is to see the viability of operating the helicopter on the red planet. If successful, the deployment would give better access and data regarding the ground, terrain and obstacles ahead of the rovers.
Three-agent robotic system
In a joint effort, researchers at NASA’s JPL, Japan’s JAXA and Eindhoven University of Technology have come up with a design for a three-agent robotic system, which would boost future Mars explorations. This system is composed of a Mars rover, a copter and an orbiter.
High-resolution data from helicopter will assist the rover to track down ideal path for roving as it will provide prior contextual information on the road network. It will also help in reducing localization uncertainty that gets pile on as the rover moves in a given direction.
In a series of numerical simulations, the researchers were able to validate the efficacy of their three-agent robotic system. Map of the Mars 2020 mission landing site was used for the simulation.
Researchers concluded that their approach might lessen localization uncertainty during rover path planning by twenty percent. On the other hand, random mapping methodology led to less than 10% gain in uncertainty reduction.
Effectiveness of the copter-rover system
Scientists envision that their system – the rover and copter in conjunction – would assist to enhance the use of copters to optimise rover navigation during future Mars exploration missions.
Existing copters can only glide for a short span of time relatively because their high-speed rotors would consume huge amounts of power. Optimising its flight time would be super important as this “time” has to be carefully utilized in picking up valuable data. There would be higher chance of mission being successful once the optimization of flight time is achieved.
Subsequent topic of study, the scientists plan to explore is the technique that may enable rover to track the optimal time to map the surrounding environment.
The three-agent robotic system would surely help scientists in understanding Mars geology and habitability potential in a better way. Additionally, the system would help to execute an autonomous and controlled flight in the Martian atmosphere.
This multi-dimensional data might also prove a boon for interplanetary journeys in the future.