Curiosity is picking its own laser targets

PIA20762_hiresNASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is now selecting rock targets for its laser spectrometer — the first time autonomous target selection is available for an instrument of this kind on any robotic planetary mission.

Using software developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, Curiosity is now frequently choosing multiple targets per week for a laser and a telescopic camera that are parts of the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument. Most ChemCam targets are still selected by scientists discussing rocks or soil seen in images the rover has sent to Earth, but the autonomous targeting adds a new capability. (…)

AEGIS software, for Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science, had previously been used on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, though less frequently and for a different type of instrument. That rover uses the software to analyze images from a wide-angle camera as the basis for autonomously selecting rocks to photograph with a narrower-angle camera. Development work on AEGIS won a NASA Software of the Year Award in 2011.

“This autonomy is particularly useful at times when getting the science team in the loop is difficult or impossible — in the middle of a long drive, perhaps, or when the schedules of Earth, Mars and spacecraft activities lead to delays in sharing information between the planets,” said robotics engineer Tara Estlin, the leader of AEGIS development at JPL. [More at link]

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