If testing in Iceland this summer is successful, robots and drone prototypes working together will aid the exploration of rocky places like the moon and Mars.
“I've never seen such crazy winds in my life,” planetary geologist Catherine Neish, at Canada's Western University, said. “Drones cannot fly in high wind conditions, and in this case, it was so high we didn't want people out there either,” Neish tole Space.com, indicating that the storm was approaching hurricane strength.
The storm was unlike anything ever seen on Mars. However, the circumstance demonstrated how robots and people alike could withstand harsh conditions, according to Neish. This is vital preparation for getting drones and rovers functioning alongside human aids on the moon, Mars, and other rocky planets.
Already, Iceland has shown to be an excellent location for carrying out analog missions, which are endeavors to simulate, to the greatest extent feasible, the circumstances that astronauts would experience on deep-space trips.
The island is home to several diffzerent landscapes, including lava flows, glaciers, and mountains, that are eerily reminiscent of those seen in other worlds.
Additionally, since Iceland is a relatively small nation, researchers can visit many different kinds of terrain in a short amount of time.
During the trip this summer, Neish's crew investigated a lava flow in the center of Iceland that originated at the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015.
Even though we know no current volcanism on Mars, a fresh analog site is advantageous since it has not been significantly eroded. According to Neish, the rate of erosion on Mars is substantially slower than it is on Earth.
“We've got this fresh surface being covered over; we also see a lot of dust and sand on Mars, getting blown around and deposited on the lava flows,” Neish said. “Then nearby, there's actually a glacier. There's a lot of ice on Mars as well, so it really is a perfect Mars analog.”
During the Rover-Aerial Vehicle Exploration Network (RAVEN) field study, humans and robots alike examined the Holuhraun lava flow using a prototype drone made by Honeybee Robotics and equipped with sample gathering equipment.
This discovery may be beneficial for NASA‘s objectives to retrieve samples from Mars utilizing drones, such as the Ingenuity helicopter that was part of the effort to send the Perseverance rover to Mars.
In addition, the Mars Exploration Science Rover (MERS) from the Canadian Space Agency and drones from the University of Arizona were there, as well as people from the Canadian MDA and Reykjavik University in Iceland. MDA controls the Canadarm robotic arms aboard the International Space Station.
During this excursion, which was the first of the project, the team's goal was to operate the rovers and drones independently while receiving remote support from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. JPL is responsible for operating real rover missions on Mars, such as the Curiosity and the Perseverance rovers.
According to Neish's explanation, JPL engineers would transmit directives across the internet. The directives would then be used as the basis for the strategy that the operations teams on site would devise.
According to Neish, “JPL had certain science goals in mind, and then there would be an implementation team that would go out in the field with the rover or the drone and implement commands they were given by the operations team.”
The teams are continuing their analysis of the data gathered during their travels throughout Iceland. Further study articles may soon be published that pertain to what they uncovered. In the meantime, Neish and her coworkers are making preparations for a further trip in the year 2023.
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