Alberto Elfes, Ph.D.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Robotic Airships for Planetary Exploration
Wednesday - February 25, 2009
Pacific Forum – 3:00 p.m.
Robotic airships (aerobots) provide a new modality for the exploration of Earth and other planets and moons in the Solar system with a substantial atmosphere. Aerobots have modest power requirements, can fly extended duration missions, and have very long distance traverse capabilities. They can be used to execute regional surveys, transport and deploy scientific instruments and in-situ laboratory facilities over vast distances, and conduct surface sampling at strategic science sites.
In this talk we will review the challenges of developing aerobots for exploration of two very different targets: Earth and Saturn’s moon Titan. We will give an overview of airship aerodynamic modeling issues, present the Firefly autonomy control architecture, and discuss autonomous perception, navigation and surface sampling for planetary exploration. We will also show results from autonomous flight tests with the JPL Aerobot, conducted in the Mojave Desert.