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Testing the complexity of working in a spacesuit. Exploring Martian cliffs with rovers. Mapping data from a Mars mission.
During the second simulation week of the Mars analog field simulation the following experiments were conducted: CLIFFBOT, ERAS, SREC, DELTA, Puli Rover, Hunveyor, MAGMA, MASC, MEDIAN, Deployable Shelter, GESU, Aouda.X, Aouda.S, Geoscience, Yellow.
Testing the complexity of working with a spacesuit
A spacesuit like the one used by Apollo astronauts is essentially a spaceship that is worn for the protection of the astronaut. It will not be any different on Mars one day. But the many layers of protective material impact the visibility, agility and movability of the astronaut. By how much exactly? DELTA will provide an answer.
The DELTA Experiment quantifies the extra time needed when performing tasks with the PolAres Aouda.X space suit simulator, as compared to a non-suit scenario. The output of DELTA will be for the first time a statistically derived mean value of time delay as function of Aouda.X operations. This value will be instrumental for improved flight planning during future missions.
DELTA requires a complex set-up: it is based on the repetition of six dummy experiments which reflect activities typically undertaken during a standard EVA, such as soil sample collection, the set-up of a surface science station or the repair of a rover (human-machine-interface). In order to allow repeatability, the experiments are carried out on an artificial “obstacle path” that is set up in the desert of Morocco and that forces testers into specific motion patterns.
DELTA PI Alexander Soucek explains his satisfaction with DELTA so far: “I told our analog astronauts in the beginning: You will be going to hate DELTA. For a sound statistical baseline, we need to do the experiments again and again, by each astronaut, at each time of the day, with and without the space suit and always following very precise procedures. We are not yet at the number of runs we must have, but with each data transmission from the field, new time values drop in, and we are on a good way.”
Mapping data from a Mars mission.
Back at the Mission Support Center (MSC), the Remote Science Support (RSS) team offered us a remarkably interesting sneak peak into the map they are working on using GoogleEarth, a map that compiles a lot of interesting scientific information.
The RSS team receives daily the science log from the field containing GPS coordinates and the execution details from each experiment. Due to bandwidth limitations in such a remote site and the ten-minute communication delay, experiment data is uplinked overnight, ready for the RSS team in the morning at the Mission Support Center.
Mike Rampey, leader of the RSS team:
“The RSS-Team is supposed to be the nerves center that handles all of the scientific data that come back from Morocco or Mars, simulating Mars. For the most part that’s an exercise that is being done because in a real Mars mission the scientific results would be of great importance. That would be the main driver of the mission, besides going there, which is a great accomplishment of itself already, but getting the scientific data would be an equally important aspect of such a mission.”
Experiments can be comprised of runs and/or samples. For example, one experiment can consist of several runs and collect varying amounts of samples per run. This is dependent on the activities as defined by FlightPlan, technical constraints (like the power available) and the most influential factor: the weather! The RSS team monitors closely the latest weather predictions for the area where the MARS2013 team is based to give advance notice of any adverse changes so the crew can protect themselves and secure the experiments.
RSS actively supports the team in the field, bearing in mind that they are a Mission Support Center, not a Control Center and thus the field crew has a significant amount of autonomy just like on a real Mars mission due to the distance and time delay.
RSS Team on the toughest challenge of their work:
“To be as close as possible to a Mars mission, where the terrain cannot be explored by the RSS team in advance, RSS was restricted to remote sensing imagery and digital elevation models to assess the suitability for each experiment to be carried out in a certain location. Google Maps is used as an open source tool, which can be shared amongst the different teams and extended/edited for post-mission analysis. RSS uses a map to suggest suitable and avoid non-suitable locations for each experiment. However, the field team on the ground decides the exact daily operations.”
At the same time, RSS is creating a map full of scientific data, which, in the end, will be an accurate visual representation of the entire mission. A snapshot of the map can be seen in the image below.
The image displays all the cumulative experiment runs conducted during the mission up until now marking out their exact locations, as well as the terrain explored by the crew (via a wearable GPS), and planned traverses for the upcoming day. The colours show which suit was used (Aouda.X or Aouda.S) for the experiment or alternatively if the experiment was unsuited (a rover or a weather station). The lines show the planned route, any bonus exploration and subsequently the planned locations as well as the actual location of each experiment run.
Everyone on the MARS2013 mission team can use the map to gain an excellent overview of each experiment and the date and location where it was carried out – the map can be filtered by date/experiment/planned/actual/suited/unsuited – anything the user would like.
The RSS team on the mission:
“MARS2013 was the toughest mission yet done by OeWF with amazing participation from 23 nations. When there will be a Mars mission, we will know that part of the way was accomplished now in Austria.”
Exploring Martian cliffs with rovers
Cliffs provide access to layers telling the story of millions years of geological, meteorological and possibly biological activity. One solution to explore such an area is to use a cable-suspended rover. The Cliff Reconnaissance Vehicule (CRV), also known as Cliffbot, involved in the Mars2013 mission is precisely testing a vertical exploration robot that can be lowered down by a human to explore steep terrain.
Alain Souchier, CRV PI, on the challenges raised by the Morocco desert environment, which would be similar on Mars
“The Morocco desert environment presents cliffs and slopes similar to what may be found on Mars. The traps that could endanger the vehicle operations, such as cracks in the rocks, overhangs, big blocks, are probably similar as well as the dust environment.”
Cliffbot had to face several challenges during the simulation.
“We had some difficulties in operating the vehicle and the study of these difficulties is one of the main objectives of the experiment. The vehicle was always safely retrieved. Once the rope sled into a vertical crack in the cliff, increasing the forces needed to pull up the Cliffbot. Another time the rod which links the vehicle to the rope became itself slightly twisted between two protruding rocks in a vertical cliff, precluding down or up motion and the vehicle had to be manually pushed up to free the rod.”
The experiment already brought new insights in what the rover can do:
“Cliffbot was equipped with a new HD camera, compared to its configuration in the Dachstein cave simulation in April 2012. The picture shows far better details. Numerous fossils were seen on the videos (even if shell fossils are not expected on Mars!). Also on some Cliffbot runs performed on 6 February, strange blue rocks that were not visible from the top of the cliff were discovered. As a fun fact, the last test conducted that day by Gernot Groemer in the Aouda Spacesuit was the 100th since experimentation began in 2001.”
In terms of ideas for future improvements, Alain says:
“I always considered that other instruments than cameras could and should be installed on Cliffbot. A ground sounding radar developed by the LATMOS laboratory for the Exomars ESA rover was tested on a Cliffbot during the Dachstein simulation. Also more cameras should be used and pictures sent to the operator up hill in order to assess the vehicle situation. To avoid the blockage by a rock protruding between spokes, plain wheels would be efficient, but the vehicle was designed to be disassembled and stored in a suit case, which had some consequences on the design.”
On the MARS2013 mission, Alain says:
“I am always impressed by the organization and the amount of work that is behind the ÖWF simulations. Also the team is very motivated and the mood is professional and at the same time very friendly. A lot of extraordinary discoveries lie in front of us in the solar system and particularly in Mars exploration. Science and adventure fit together well in this endeavor which will shape our future as humankind.”
We end this science bulletin with a quote from one of our Analog-Astronauts.
Daniel Schildhammer, about the conditions in the desert:
“It is an exciting experience to be in the desert for now already two weeks and sleeping in tents in these cold nights. As an Analog-Astronaut you don´t realize how the temperature is during the day, because inside the spacesuit simulator you’ll have your own little environment and can’t feel the temperature outside. It is really interesting and fascinating to do this huge amount of experiments together with a great and well organized team.”
MARS2013 is an integrated Mars analog field simulation in the Northern Sahara near Erfoud, Morocco. MARS2013 is organized by the Austrian Space Forum in partnership with the Ibn Battuta Center in Marrakesh.
From the 1st to 10th of February, the field crew including three analog-astronauts prepared for the simulation, which officially started on Monday 11th of February 2013. Until the 28th of February the 10-person crew will conduct 16 experiments from various fields (life sciences, engineering and infrastructure, geosciences, rover & spacesuits). The Mars Simulation is backed by a Mission Support Center in Innsbruck, Austria. All communication during the “in SIM” phase (in SIM phase is declared just before the start of an EVA (extra-vehicular activity) and finishes with the end of an EVA) between Morocco and Austria is delayed by 10 minutes, to gain operational experience about communicating with a time-delay. To achieve a proper time delay, all transferred data e.g. audio, text chat, webcam viewings, gets a time stamp and is instructed to wait for 10 minutes before proceeding automatically.
Learn more about MARS2013 and all experiments and partners on mars2013.oewf.org
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