NASA Flight Program Tests Mars Lander Vision System
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
October 4, 2016
NASA tested new "eyes" for its next Mars rover mission on a rocket built
by Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California, thanks in part to NASA's
Flight Opportunities Program, or FOP.
The agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is leading
development of the Mars 2020 rover and its Lander Vision System, or LVS.
In 2014, the prototype vision system launched 1,066 feet (325 meters)
into the air aboard Masten's rocket-powered "Xombie" test platform and
helped guide the rocket to a precise landing at a predesignated target.
LVS flew as part of a larger system of experimental landing technologies
called the Autonomous Descent and Ascent Powered-flight Testbed, or ADAPT.
LVS, a camera-based navigation system, photographs the terrain beneath
a descending spacecraft and matches it with onboard maps allowing the
craft to detect its location relative to landing hazards, such as boulders
The system can then direct the craft toward a safe landing at its primary
target site or divert touchdown toward better terrain if there are hazards
in the approaching target area. Image matching is aided by an inertial
measurement unit that monitors orientation.
The Flight Opportunities Program funded the Masten flight tests under
the Space Technology Mission Directorate. The program obtains commercial
suborbital space launch services to pursue science, technology and engineering
to mature technology relevant to NASA's pursuit of space exploration.
The program nurtures the emerging suborbital space industry and allows
NASA to focus on deep space.
Andrew Johnson, principal investigator in development of the Lander Vision
System development, said the tests built confidence that the vision system
will enable Mars 2020 to land safely.
"By providing funding for flight tests, FOP motivated us to build guidance,
navigation and control payloads for testing on Xombie," Johnson said.
"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."
According to "Lander Vision System for Safe and Precise Entry Descent
and Landing," a 2012 abstract co-authored by Johnson for a Mars exploration
workshop, LVS enables a broad range of potential landing sites for Mars
Typically, Mars landers have lacked the ability to analyze and react to
hazards, the abstract says. To avoid hazards, mission planners selected
wide-open landing sites with mostly flat terrain. As a result, landers
and rovers were limited to areas with relatively limited geological features,
and were unable to access many sites of high scientific interest with
more complex and hazardous surface morphology. LVS will enable safe landing
at these scientifically compelling Mars landing sites.
An LVS-equipped mission allows for opportunities to land within more
environments and pursue new discoveries about Mars. With LVS baselined
for inclusion on Mars 2020, the researchers are now focused on building
the flight system ahead of its eventual role on the Red Planet.
To learn more about NASA's flight opportunities program, visit:
To read more about NASA's Mars 2020 rover, visit:
News Media Contact
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, Palmdale, Calif.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
NASA Headquarters, Washington
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