Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Making tracks on Mars: Mission operations for deep space


Andrew H. Mishkin
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratories

Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Pacific Forum – 3:00 p.m.


What makes operating robotic deep space exploration missions hard? What processes and tools are used, and why? The unique combination of risks and constraints inherent to these robotic missions has led to a specialized operations approach. This approach is characterized by formal planning of spacecraft activities, often over the course of weeks or months, with rigorous pre-validation of the command sequences to be uplinked to the spacecraft. However, the non-determinism inherent in rover interactions with an alien terrain has challenged this operations paradigm. The needs of the technology demonstration mission Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner rover drove the development of compressed and reactive processes, as well as custom ground software for visualization and command sequence development. The much more ambitious and science-driven Mars Exploration Rover Mission—with its twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity—required the efficiency of ground operations to be ratcheted up yet again to enable a large team to work together to command these new complex machines on a daily basis.

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