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NASA Tests Mars 2020 Rover Lander Vision Cameras

Oct 06, 2016 04:25 AM EDT

With a new rover, Mars will get fresh new eyes. NASA recently tested the lander's vision system through the agency's Flight Opportunities Program.

NASA is preparing the Mars 2020 rover, a more advanced successor to the Mars Curiosity Rover. An integral part of the rover for a successful Martian landing is its vision camera system and the space agency wants to make sure that it's in good shape.

The Lander Vision System (LVS), also called the rover's "eyes," were tested on a Masten Space System rocket in Mojave, California. The tests were done with the help of NASA's Flight Opportunities Program (FO Program). The said technology was developed by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

During the test, a prototype of the vision system was flown 1,066 feet using the Masten's "Xombie" rocket-powered testing machine. LVS helped guide the rocket to perform a precise landing on a designated target. The LVS, together with the Autonomous Descent and Ascent Powered-flight Testbed (ADAPT), performed the experiment.

The LVS works just like the eyes, surveying the terrain and taking photographs before landing. It can also observe the surface beneath it where it's supposed to land. LVS will then match the images of the terrain to onboard maps, enabling it to locate its exact position. The navigational system will allow the spacecraft to autonomously avoid obstacles such as boulders.

"We showed a closed loop pinpoint landing demo that eliminated any technical concerns with flying the Lander Vision System on Mars 2020," Andrew Johnson, principal investigator in the LVS development, said in a statement.

With the LVS and the new landing system, the spacecraft will have the ability to search for a safer, more suitable landing site within or near its target. It will also be able to "divert" touchdown if threats and dangers were spotted in the designated landing site.

NASA's FO program is responsible for funding Masten's flight test under the Space Technology Mission Directorate. The program supports space technologies, experiments and researchers that are relevant to space explorations and to NASA. The program also prioritizes suborbital space industries that focus on deep space scientific applications.

"By providing funding for flight tests, FOP motivated us to build guidance, navigation and control payloads for testing on Xombie," Andrew Johnson, principal investigator of the Lander Vision System Development said in a press release. "In the end, we showed a closed loop pinpoint landing demo that eliminated any technical concerns with flying the Lander Vision System on Mars 2020."

The LVS system is a landing upgrade deemed vital by engineers as former Mars landers lack the capability to react to hazards.


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