Where will our rover land?

Although the Field team in Utah are just arriving, here at the Mission Operations Centre (MOC) in Harwell we already have plenty to do. As well as making sure all the various software and hardware are ready for the mission, we also have to spend some time understanding the local geology at the “landing site” in Utah.

Typically, before a rover arrives on Mars, its landing site will have been well studied using orbital data, and there will usually be a good understanding – or at least an idea – of what we think the geology is like.

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Peter Fawdon, Mapping Lead, viewing the landing site in Utah

This is important for two reasons.

Firstly, we want to know the locations of good targets for the rover to go to that meet the mission’s science objectives. In the case of the Curiosity Rover, these are outcrops of rocks that may record evidence of past environments that were friendly to life. For MURFI, as this mission is based on ExoMars, we’re interested in finding rocks where evidence for extinct life is preserved.

Secondly, we also want to find areas to avoid that may be hazardous to the rover – for example, steep slopes that the rover cannot drive up or boulders that will damage the rover’s wheels.

This area of Utah has already been well studied in the past; however, seeing as we’re pretending this is Mars, we’re going into the mission without looking at pre-existing geological maps of the area. We’re just going to use the data we would have as if we were on Mars – that is, orbital imagery. We’ve tried to make this as Mars-like as possible, so the image resolution of our data is similar to the data sets returned from Mars, like the HiRISE (25 cm/pixel) or HRSC (12.5 m/pixel) cameras.

On Mars, a landing site will usually have been studied for years before the rover arrives; for the MURFI mission, we only have a few days.

Throughout this week, the mapping team will produce a new geological map of the landing site from the orbital imagery. This map will aim to show ideal science targets for the rover, as well as hazardous areas for the rover to avoid.

We’ll also update this blog to give some details on how the actually mapping work is done (and hopefully show some results!) later on in the week.

— Joel Davis, Mapping Team – Harwell

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