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Gigapan Voyage Field Tested at 2009 “Desert Rats”

From August 27 to September 6, 2009, the Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) completed a “robotic recon” experiment as part of the 2009 Desert Research and Technology Studies (D-RATS) field test at Black Point Lava Flow, Arizona. The goal of the “robotic recon experiment” is to improve NASA’s understanding of how advance robot scouting can enhance the planning and increase the science return from human exploration missions.

In June, IRG used a K10 mobile robot equipped with multiple cameras and 3D scanning laser to scout portions of Black Point Lava Flow. The data collected by K10 was subsequently used during Summer 2009 to plan field geology traverses, which were designed to help establish the geologic history of the site.

During D-RATS, two-man crews carried out traverses using the Lunar Electric Rover (a prototype lunar truck) and simulated EVA suits. Two of the traverses were planned using only satellite images. Two other traverses were based on satellite images and the ground-level robotic recon data. Assessment of the differences (in planning, execution, and science return) between the different traverses will provide insight into the usefulness of robotic recon.

BACKGROUND: The human return to the Moon in 2020 offers new opportunities to advance the scientific exploration of the lunar surface. But when the new exploration campaign begins, humans will initially be on the Moon only for short periods of time. Between human missions, however, robots will be available to perform surface operations. A central challenge, therefore, is to understand how robots can improve the productivity and science return of human missions. One way to do this may be robotic recon.

Robotic recon can potentially improve human exploration of the Moon in three ways: (1) it can increase scientific understanding so that better plans can be made; (2) it can reduce operational risk by evaluating routes and terrain hazards; and (3) it can improves crew productivity by enabling activities to be planned in detail.


GIGAPAN TEAM: Ted Morse, Eric Park, Randy Sargent

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: Human-Robotic Systems (Exploration Technology Development Program)

Contact: Terry Fong


Ground-level robotic recon data collected by cameras mounted on the Lunar Exploration Rover vehicle was used to plan simulated lunar traverses during the 2009 Desert Research and Technology Studies field test. Here, a gigacam camera is shown mounted on the LER.

This panoramic view was taken during the 2009 Desert RATS field test by a gigacam mounted on the Lunar Exploration Rover. The GigaCam camera system was developed by Carnegie Mellon University in collaboration with the NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group.

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