Analog Environment Testing for Mars Exploration

September 20, 2021

SANDE_rover_Medial_2021 SANDErover_Distal_2021

Photographer: Candice Bedford

Summary Author: Candice Bedford; Cadan Cummings

Few places on Earth are fit to be environmental analogs for interplanetary exploration to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. However, the barren rock outcroppings, cratered landscape, and lava flows of Iceland have been the setting for scientific training and testing going back to NASA’s Apollo missions of the 1960’s. Continuing to help advance forthcoming space exploration to Mars, the rugged landscape of Iceland is currently being utilized to develop and test a rover system that can autonomously navigate and collect soil and rock samples. The photos above were taken in Iceland during the testing of various Mars operations simulations using an Argo J-5 rover and drone to simulate the NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. This is part of a NASA-funded project called SAND-E which has been testing autonomous scientific operations for terrain analysis and soil classification. Similar to Earth, the Martian surface poses unique challenges to autonomous vehicles, such as uneven terrain, changing soil characteristics, and hazardous rock fields. With limited communications between the Earth and Mars, it is important that Mars rovers are able to identify hazards and geological targets of interest to assist the scientists and engineers on Earth in their decision-making.

Photo data: Samsung SM-G781U1, F1.8, 1/2483 s, 5.40 mm, ISO 4.0, White Balance Auto, No flash

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