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"BRAILLE" Project to Conduct Martian Lava Tube Robotic Mapping and Astrobiology Analysis Analog Field Test in August
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"BRAILLE" Project to Conduct Martian Lava Tube Robotic Mapping and Astrobiology Analysis Analog Field Test in August

The Biologic and Resource Analog Investigations in Low Light Environments (BRAILLE) project will conduct a culminating field test at the end of project year one this August 1-14 at Lava Beds National Monument in Northern California. The project will demonstrate baseline integration of components for a robotic science mission to a Martian cave in end-to-end simulation.

A robot dubbed “CaveR” has been integrated with a suite of remote science and mapping sensors. CaveR will be guided by teams of scientists from differing backgrounds in two independent simulations. The objective is to compare the efficacy of the proposed sensors, concept of operations, and decision-making processes in exploring caves and identifying biosignatures of interest. Data will be ground-truthed by an expert team of "foot scientists" who will identify areas of interest and manually collect samples outside of the simulation for laboratory confirmation. BRAILLE will build upon the year one baseline with lessons learned for testing in subsequent years. The $4 million project is being led by Principal Investigator Jen Blank in the Planetary Systems Branch (Code SST) of the Space Science and Astrobiology Division, and Uland Wong is leading the robotics effort in the Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) of the Intelligent Systems Division (Code TI).

BACKGROUND: BRAILLE will investigate and document the geologic and biological variability in a natural lava tube and the impact on science operations while operating a rover. Autonomous planetary lava tube exploration, mapping, and localization is challenging due to a set of specific constraints, including low illumination conditions, unknown terrain characteristics, reduced onboard computational power and energy, lack of a Global Positioning System (GPS) signal, and reduced or zero communications with ground. For astrobiology, lava tube microbiology will be analyzed for lipid and isotopic biosignatures in collaboration with microbiologists, geochemists, and robotics members of the team.

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: The Planetary Science and Technology from Analog Research (PSTAR) program, Science Mission Directorate (SMD)

TEAM: Code TI: Tamar Cohen, Matt Deans, Terry Fong, Ara Nefian, Arno Rogg, Antoine Tardy, Vinh To, and Uland Wong (Robotics Lead); CODE S: Jen Blank (PI), Tony Colaprete, Ted Roush, Carol Stoker, and Bruce White


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