MURFI is a UK Space Agency Mars Rover field trial mission that will take place at a site in Utah, USA, and at a Rover Operations Centre at Harwell, UK. This mission is being carried out in tandem with the Canadian Space Agency Mars Sample Return Analogue Mission, and alongside missions by DLR and NASA.
The main aims of the MURFI project are to
- Gain UK-based experience (and demonstrate UK expertise) in implementing field trials to support future planetary exploration,
- To train UK scientists and engineers in mission operations and field trials,
- To establish a UK-based Rover Operations Centre,
- To develop collaborations and partnerships with other agencies (both within and outside the UK).
MURFI 2016 will take place between 24th October and 14th November 2016. Week 1 includes setup and testing of field equipment in Utah, and remote sensing studies of the “landing site” at the ROC. Week 2 begins as soon as the Rover has “landed” at the field site. Weeks 2 and 3 will then be based on a simple ExoMars-like mission profile, in which the ROC team guide the Rover through the landscape, assessing the geology and environment as they go, culminating in one or more drill-sample activities and analysis of the drill-samples for biomarkers. Week 4 will include cooperative trials with the Canadian Space Agency as well as testing of other-non-ExoMars related instruments and techniques.
The field site is located 7.5 km NW of Hanksville USA. The image below shows the general area that we will be exploring.
An “ExoMars-like” mission
A big part of the trial will be testing how UK scientists are able to prepare and operate an ExoMars-like field-trial. The ExoMars-like part of the trial will take about 7-10 days and will follow deployment and testing of the Rover and instruments. The mission aim is to locate suitable areas with sedimentary geology indicative of an ancient habitable environment, then to drill into the surface to acquire a sample from those materials, and finally to test them with various “onboard” instruments (and then to analyse the samples with ExoMars-like instruments further when returned to the UK).
Prior to the mission, part of the science team will perform a remote sensing mapping exercise of the area around the site to identify possible science targets, hazards and possible traverses. This exercise will use Mars-like data, and the team will not be given access to data that they would not have on Mars.
The ExoMars-like mission will begin with the Rover “landing” at some point in the study area and acquiring a colour panorama image of the area around it. This will be designated “Sol 0”.
On Sol 1, UK time, the science team in the ROC will receive these data and will begin to plan the rest of the mission. Effective localization will be required to ensure that the ROC team know where the Rover is positioned, so this will be a priority for Sol 1. By early afternoon UK-time on Sol 1, the ROC science team will have designed a plan of operations for Sol 1 of the mission. The plan will include instructions stating how long and in what directions to drive for and what instruments to use and when. They will then “upload” the plan to the Rover for the Utah team to collect and put into practise when they begin Sol 1 field operations (early morning, Utah Time). The Utah team will use the Rover and its instruments to enact the plan for Sol 1 and collect data from the various instruments. At the end of the day, they will send the collected data back to the ROC, ready for the ROC team to analyse on Sol 2.
Each sol will progress in a similar way. The science team will analyse data acquired by the Rover from the previous sol, decide what the plan for that Sol will be, and then upload a new plan to the Rover. At the ROC, each day will begin with analysis of the data returned and a tactical meeting to decide the plan. The plan will be submitted by early afternoon UK time, leaving the afternoon for longer term planning and more detailed data analysis.
ExoMars-like mission instrumentation
The Rover will host an instrument package similar to – but more limited than – that of the ExoMars Rover.
- PanCam Emulator (AUPE3), University of Aberystwyth and MSSL
- ISEM (Infrared Spectrometer for ExoMars) Emulator, University of Aberystwyth
- CLUPI (Close-up Imager) Emulator, University of Aberystwyth
- NavCam Emulator, University of Oxford
- Raman Spectrometer Emulator, University of Leicester
- SPLIT, University of Leicester
Scientific input is required both in the field and at the ROC. The terms “science” and “scientists” in this document refers to both technological and scientific endeavours, as opposed to logistical, management or leadership activities.
In the field, the scientists will have one or more of several possible roles: 1) characterising the geology and environment of the landing site to provide “ground truth”, 2) supporting instrumentation and Rover operations, 3) decision-making about initial Rover positioning, Rover/instrument safety, and whether to intervene if ROC team decisions might compromise the project. The specific roles of the science team are still being defined.
In the ROC, scientists will also have one of several roles, although usually each team member will focus on one role at a time. Compared to a full Rover mission, the number of roles has been reduced to simplify the project and to take account of the relatively low numbers of personnel available.
- Science Working Group Chair – responsible for daily leadership of the tactical (daily) planning meetings. The tactical meeting will be strictly time-limited, so the chair must be able to guide the team to make an appropriate plan in a pressurised situation.
- Strategic Lead – responsible for looking 2-4 (or more) sols ahead, planning future Rover paths, mapping the location of the Rover as it progresses through the mission, and ensuring the overall mission timelines are respected. The Strategic Lead will work closely with the Surface properties lead.
- Surface properties lead – responsible for analysing surface properties to ensure the best paths are taken by the Rover and to avoid hazards caused by steep slopes, rocky terrain and loose materials.
- Mission Planner – responsible for recording the plan as it is decided upon during tactical meetings and converting that into “Rover-speak” prior to upload to the Rover.
- Instrument specialists – responsible for providing expertise for specific instruments
- Science team members – responsible for providing the majority of the geoscience/astrobiology expertise that will be needed to analyse the Rover data and also to discuss and help make decisions on the strategic and tactical timescales.
- Mission Manager – in addition to the science team “within” the simulation, this position will be “outside” the simulation and is responsible for the real time operations of the field trial and coordinating with the team in the field to ensure that the science team are able to achieve their objectives whilst within a realistic (and viable) framework. Because this position is “outside of sim” it will be a fixed role, with one or two people assigned to cover it across the mission.
As the trial progresses, members of the science team at the ROC will be able to swap in and out of the different roles (except mission manager) to gain experience. It is likely that the whole team will work together in both tactical and strategic meetings, rather than forming formal sub-groups.