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 
and outcroppings.

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
Leslie Williams
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, Palmdale, Calif.

Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Gina Anderson
NASA Headquarters, Washington



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