Conference PaperPDF Available

Robotic Planetary Exploration Analogue Missions at the International Space University, Latest Results

Authors:
  • Mission Control Space Services Inc.
  • Slovak Organisation for Space Activities (SOSA)

Abstract and Figures

Participants at the International Space University’s (ISU) 2014,2015 and 2016 Space Studies Program (SSP) were provided an opportunity to learn about, and engage in, the definition, planning, and execution of a robotic planetary exploration analogue mission. Participants were provided with a scenario in which they were in a spacecraft en route to Mars and tasked with controlling a rover on the Martian surface in order to determine if its location was appropriate as a landing site for their spacecraft. Their mission statement was to: Operate exploration rovers in order to determine if the potential landing site warrants human exploration in the context of finding signs of habitable environments, or past or present life on Mars. The missions were implemented through the use of rover prototypes owned by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and industry partners Ontario Drive and Gear-Argo (ODG) and the CSA Mars Emulation Terrain (MET) analogue facility. The activity involved three phases necessary to learn the concepts and theories specific to robotic planetary exploration. The first phase provided preliminary knowledge necessary to complete subsequent phases, including computer vision, rover systems, and planetary science. The second phase consisted of a mission planning session and the third and final phase was the execution of the analogue missions. For the second and third phases of the activity participants were separated into pre-defined teams. The teams had been created to ensure cultural and experiential diversity. Participants were asked to define roles for their mission, produce an organizational chart, assign these roles amongst their team members, and develop a communications plan including a defined protocol and a plan to deal with high latency communication. Teams were asked to identify specific scientific goals relating to their pre-stated mission objective. They were provided with a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of the terrain surrounding the notional rover landing site. Participants used an Excel based tool developed by the organizers which allowed them to configure a rover platform with sensors and science instruments while taking into account the trade-offs associated with limitations in mass, power, bandwidth, cost and reliability. Each team conducted a mission of 2, 3 or 3.5 hours controlling the rover from the Rover Control Centre (RCC) while RPEAM organizers acted as the ground control team supervising their mission. Each team was able to locate scientifically interesting sites and make a determination that landing a rover in the region was appropriate. The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the Canadian Space Agency without whom this project would not have been possible.
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67th International Astronautical Congress, Guadalajara, Mexico.
IAC-16-E1.4.7 Page 1 of 9
IAC-16-E1.4.7
ROBOTIC PLANETARY EXPLORATION ANALOGUE MISSIONS AT THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE
UNIVERSITY, LATEST RESULTS
Ewan Reid
Mission Control Space Services, Canada, ewan@missioncontrolspaceservices.com
Dr. Melissa Battler
Mission Control Space Services, Canada, melissa@missioncontrolspaceservices.com
Dr. Michele Faragalli
Mission Control Space Services, Canada, michele@missioncontrolspaceservices.com
Dr. Michaela Musilova
Mission Control Space Services, Canada, michaela@missioncontrolspaceservices.com
Dr. Rene Laufer
Baylor University, USA/International Space University, rene_laufer@baylor.edu
Perry Edmundson
Ontario Drive and Gear, Canada, pedmundson@odg.com
Peter Visscher
Ontario Drive and Gear, Canada, pvisscher@odg.com
Dr. Geoff Steeves
University of Victoria, Canada/Internationa Space University, gsteeves@uvic.ca
Remco Timmermans
International Space University, remco.timmermans@community.isunet.edu
Participants at the International Space University’s (ISU) 2014,2015 and 2016 Space Studies Program (SSP)
were provided an opportunity to learn about, and engage in, the definition, planning, and execution of a robotic
planetary exploration analogue mission. Participants were provided with a scenario in which they were in a
spacecraft en route to Mars and tasked with controlling a rover on the Martian surface in order to determine if its
location was appropriate as a landing site for their spacecraft. Their mission statement was to: Operate exploration
rovers in order to determine if the potential landing site warrants human exploration in the context of finding signs of
habitable environments, or past or present life on Mars. The missions were implemented through the use of rover
prototypes owned by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and industry partners Ontario Drive and Gear-Argo (ODG)
and the CSA Mars Emulation Terrain (MET) analogue facility. The activity involved three phases necessary to learn
the concepts and theories specific to robotic planetary exploration. The first phase provided preliminary knowledge
necessary to complete subsequent phases, including computer vision, rover systems, and planetary science. The
second phase consisted of a mission planning session and the third and final phase was the execution of the analogue
missions. For the second and third phases of the activity participants were separated into pre-defined teams. The
teams had been created to ensure cultural and experiential diversity. Participants were asked to define roles for their
mission, produce an organizational chart, assign these roles amongst their team members, and develop a
communications plan including a defined protocol and a plan to deal with high latency communication. Teams were
asked to identify specific scientific goals relating to their pre-stated mission objective. They were provided with a
Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of the terrain surrounding the notional rover landing site. Participants used an Excel
based tool developed by the organizers which allowed them to configure a rover platform with sensors and science
instruments while taking into account the trade-offs associated with limitations in mass, power, bandwidth, cost and
reliability. Each team conducted a mission of 2, 3 or 3.5 hours controlling the rover from the Rover Control Centre
(RCC) while RPEAM organizers acted as the ground control team supervising their mission. Each team was able to
locate scientifically interesting sites and make a determination that landing a rover in the region was appropriate.
The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the Canadian Space Agency without whom this project
would not have been possible.
I. INTRODUCTION Participants at the International Space University’s
(ISU) Space Studies Program (SSP) in 2014, 2015 and
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IAC-16-E1.4.7 Page 2 of 9
2016 were provided an opportunity to learn about, and
engage in, the definition, planning, and execution of
Robotic Planetary Exploration Analogue Missions
(RPEAM) overseen by a team of experts from academia
and industry. This paper describes the planning for and
implementation of these RPEAM and provides a
summary of the lessons learned for both the participants
and the organizers.
This section provides an outline of the activity.
Subsequent sections describe the results, lessons
learned, benefits and future work.
I.I Activity Overview
The objective of the activity was to provide an
opportunity for SSP participants to engage in the
definition, planning, and execution of an
interdisciplinary robotic planetary exploration analogue
mission. The activity centred on the planning and
execution of the mission and was based on material
learned in preparatory sessions.
I.II Scenario
The participants were provided with the following
objective:
You are a team of international interdisciplinary
astronauts from the International Space Agency (ISA)
on their way to Mars aboard the Alouette spacecraft for
an extended exploration mission which will attempt to
find signs of past or present life. A fleet of science
rovers has been sent to potential landing areas in order
to determine the optimal location for human
exploration. The remaining distance to travel to the
Red Planet is approximately 750,000 km which results
in a ~5s round-trip delay in communications. With
Earth around its closest approach, communications
with the Ground Control Center (GCC) will have ~8
minutes two-way light time (TWLT) delay. Today, your
team will control one of the rovers from your
interplanetary spacecraft and scout its landing area for
relevant science. Your recommendations will serve as
the basis to select the human exploration landing site.
Ground Control Center (GCC)
Alouette Spacecraft
(YOU!)
TRT Rover
4 minutes
Communications Delay
2.5 seconds
Communications
Fig. 1: Mission Scenario
The participants were provided with the following
mission statement:
Operate exploration rovers in order to determine
if the potential landing site warrants human
exploration in the context of finding signs of past or
present life on Mars.
I.III Implementation
The missions were implemented through the use of
Canadian Space Agency (CSA) or Ontario Drive and
Gear-Argo (ODG) owned rover prototypes and the CSA
Mars Emulation Terrain (MET) analogue facility. In
2014, with SSP taking place in Montreal, Canada, the
participants were able to travel to the CSA headquarters
and make use of the ExDOC control centre. The
following year, in 2015, a Rover Control Center (RCC)
was established on the campus of the Ohio University in
Athens, Ohio. In 2016, the RCC was established on
campus at Technion the Israel Institute of Technology
in Haifa, Israel.
Mission planning tools, presentations, participant
handouts and supporting documentation were prepared
by the organizing team.
II. DESCRIPTION OF ACTIVITY
The activity was offered to participants of the
Science (SCI) Department in 2014 and to both the SCI
and Engineering (ENG) Departments in 2015 and 2016.
The activity involved three phases necessary to learn the
concepts and theories specific to robotic planetary
exploration. The first phase provided preliminary
knowledge necessary to complete subsequent phases.
This phase was split into three sessions of which each
participant had to attend one. The second phase
consisted of a mission planning session and the third
and final phase was the execution of the analogue
missions. These phases are described in further detail in
the following subsections.
Fig. 2: Activity Flowchart
II.I Preliminary Workshops
The first phase was delivered in the form of optional
workshops open to the entire SSP class in 2014 and
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2015. Participants from the SCI and ENG departments
were asked to attend at least one session. In 2016 the
workshops were offered within the SCI and ENG
departments with planetary science and rover systems
activities presented in parallel to the participants of the
respective departments due to a shortened SSP schedule.
The sessions are described below.
Computer Vision (CV)
The following description of the CV workshop was
included in the SSP Participant Handbook:
The purpose of this session is to familiarize
participants with computer vision and the challenges
associated with their application in space. Similar to
human eyes and brain, computer vision systems provide
the ability to extract information from surrounding
environment. Computer vision is more than just 2D or
3D images; it uses sensors along with artificial
intelligence to obtain higher level information from the
surrounding environment; for instance, relative
positioning or hazard detection. In the past and today,
computer vision systems have been used in a wide range
of space applications such as ISS assembly, Space
Shuttle inspection or the Mars Exploration Rovers.
Typically, these systems have been used to acquire data
for human operators either astronauts or ground
controllers with low level of autonomy required by the
space system. New exploration initiatives and future
space applications will require more autonomy from
robotic systems and thus rely on vision systems to make
intelligent decisions.
Note that the CV workshop was not delivered as part
of the RPEAM in 2016 due to resource constraints.
Planetary Science (PS)
The following description of the PS workshop was
included in the SSP Participant Handbook:
The purpose of this activity is to learn the
fundamentals of planetary geology; specifically, as they
relate to searching for life on Mars. We will learn key
skills that are used by mission scientists and field
geologists alike, including site selection, basic
geological mapping, identification of landforms and
where/how to look for evidence of life. After an
introductory lecture, we will practice basic mapping
and site identification using simulated data.
Note that the PS workshop was delivered to the
participants of the SCI department in 2016.
Rover Systems (RS)
The following description of the RS workshop was
included in the SSP Participant Handbook:
The purpose of this activity is to teach participants
the importance of rover design in the success of surface
exploration missions. A lecture will introduce
participants to the relationship between mission
concepts and rover performance requirements. An
overview of rover subsystems critical to meeting these
requirements will be provided, including a summary of
the state-of-the-art in power, communication, control,
navigation and localization, environmental protection
and locomotion system designs. Examples of existing
flight and terrestrial analogue rovers will be used to
illustrate the relationship between rover functionality
and design. A discussion on the future requirements for
planetary surface exploration will be provided, with a
special emphasis on pre-cursor in-situ resource
utilization (ISRU) missions. Finally, design
methodologies and analysis tools useful for developing
conceptual rover designs will be introduced.
Note that the RS workshop was delivered to the
participants of the ENG department in 2016.
II.II Mission Planning
For the second phase of the activity, the Mission
Planning session, participants were separated into pre-
defined teams. In 2016 the two departments counted for
a total of 35 participants from 14 countries with diverse
technical and non-technical backgrounds divided into
three teams. The teams had been created to ensure
cultural and experiential diversity. This phase involved
a series of short (~5 to 15 minutes) lectures followed by
team breakout sessions to implement the material
learned into a mission plan. Maintaining adherence to a
strict agenda was critical for this activity to be
successful given the quantity of material that needed to
be covered in a limited amount of time.
The objective of this session was for the participants
to prepare a mission plan defined to facilitate achieving
mission objectives and to present this plan to the
Mission Management Team (MMT) the organizers of
the activity. Participant teams were provided with a
template mission plan presentation into which they
could populate their mission specific information.
The first part of mission planning was Team
Definition. Lecturers provided information on the
concept of mission control/ground control centres, real-
time operations, and communications protocols.
Challenges associated with voice and written
communications across links with inherent latency were
presented as well as the typical mitigation techniques
associated with these challenges. Participants were
asked to define roles for their mission, produce an
organizational chart and to assign these roles amongst
their team members. Furthermore, they were asked to
develop a communications plan including a defined
protocol and a plan to deal with high latency.
The second part of mission planning was Science
Objectives and Path Planning. As part of the scenario
teams were provided with pre-defined Areas of Interest
(AOI) which were meant to have been obtained through
satellite imagery. Teams were given an overview of
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IAC-16-E1.4.7 Page 4 of 9
each AOI and the rationale as to why it was selected as
potentially interesting.
Fig 3: AOI site 1 description
Teams were asked to identify specific scientific
goals relating to their pre-stated mission objective.
They were provided with a Digital Elevation Model
(DEM) of the terrain surrounding the notional rover
landing site as well as basic information about the
rover’s capabilities in terms of speed and slope
traversing capabilities. They were then asked to
prioritize the AOIs taking into consideration: potential
scientific return as it relates to their scientific goals,
navigational challenges, and limited rover resources.
With this prioritization in mind there were asked to plot
out a path on the DEM and consider what specific
scientific instruments would be required to successfully
follow this path and complete the relevant scientific
tasks.
Fig.4: Analogue Site DEM with AOIs
The next part of mission planning was a concurrent
engineering activity. Participants used an Excel based
tool developed by the organizers which allowed them to
configure a rover platform with sensors and science
instruments while taking into account the trade-offs
associated with limitations in mass, power, bandwidth,
cost and reliability. The tool was designed such that
once a team had selected a power system and a
communications system they would have a certain
margin remaining in terms of mass and budget to select
navigation and science instruments. As instruments
were added to a given configuration cells indicating
remaining margin on these parameters would
automatically change colour from green indicating
that margin remained, to yellow indicating that a limit
was reached, to red indicating that a limit was
exceeded. The goal was to create a rover configuration
without any red cells yet with sufficient navigational
and scientific instruments to be able to confidently
undertake the mission. The resulting rover
configuration was added to each team’s mission plan.
Fig. 5: Asset Selection Spreadsheet
The last part of mission planning was to finalize the
mission plan and insert details such as a detailed
mission timeline and failure response plan. This
mission plan was then presented to the MMT for review
in private without the other teams present. The MMT
was responsible for ensuring that the mission plan
proposed by each team was feasible given their stated
goals.
II.III Mission Execution
The final phase of the activity was the execution of
the missions. Each team was given a set time to
complete their mission. In 2014 teams were given 3.5
hours. In 2015 teams were given 3 hours. In 2016, due
in part to logistical constraints associated with the time
difference between Haifa and Montreal, each team was
given 2 hours to complete their mission.
The missions were conducted using three different,
yet similar, rover prototypes. In 2014, a Juno II rover
with the CSA Tele-Robotics Testbed (TRT) was used.
The subsequent year, in 2015, the Artemis Jr rover was
used. In 2016, ODG’s J5 rover was used. Both Artemis
Jr and J5 result from an evolution of the Juno II
platform. The following design elements are common
to all three rovers.
Four-wheel skid-steer platform
One brushless DC-motor for each side of
the vehicle linked to the traction system via
a two speed gearbox and a chain drive
5.14 kWh Li-ion battery system
Payload hosting interface: +28 V DC,
GigE communications link
Central Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) camera
Front, left and right side, fisheye cameras
Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU)
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Fig. 6: Juno II TRT Rover used in 2014
In order to facilitate the concurrent design element
of the activity the rovers had to be equipped with
different sensors/hardware for each team as a result of
the trade-off process and their individual mission
objectives. As such, many of the sensors/hardware
available for use in the Asset Selection Spreadsheet
were in fact simulated.
A variety of camera types were available. These
were all based on the real cameras installed on the
rovers which were adjusted to match each teams
configuration. Cameras were variable in terms of
colour versus monochrome as well as resolution.
Advanced vision sensors complemented the
cameras. Two options were available each year; a 3D
LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanner and an
Infrared (IR) camera were used in 2014 and 2015, and a
line scanning LIDAR and stereo cameras were used in
2016. These were physical prototypes installed on the
rovers by the CSA and enabled or disabled depending
on each team’s selections.
The science sensors available were a Laser Induced
Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) and an X-ray
Diffractometer (XRD). These were both simulated.
The participants were asked to use the PTZ camera to
aim their science instrument at the target selected and
when they acquired a measurement the Ground Control
Center (GCC), manned by RPEAM organizers,
uploaded the relevant profile of the rock/soil being
targeted. This data profile was pre-prepared in order to
facilitate a timely upload simulating the operation of a
real sensor.
Control of the rovers was achieved using the control
interface of the particular rover used. In 2014, using the
TRT control interface, participants had the ability to
control the rover in several tele-operation modes: rate
commands whereby speeds for each side of the rover
were commanded, move-by-distance/turn-by-angle
whereby traverses of a specific distance, or turns of a
specific angle, were achieved by commanding the
desired distance or angle, and point and click whereby
the participants could click on an interactive map and
the rover would follow the desired path.
In 2015, the participants used Artemis Jr’s custom
Symphony control interface. As this interface was still
in development only a subset of the command modes
was available to the participants. They were limited to
the rates command mode.
Finally, in 2016, the participants used the custom J5
Rover Control Software (RCS) developed by Provectus
Robotics Solutions. This interface allowed control of
the rover using rates command mode.
During the mission in 2014, the participants had to
cope with a 5s roundtrip delay between the RCC and the
rover. In 2015, due to limitations associated with the
ongoing development of the Symphony control
interface, the roundtrip delay was reduced to the actual
latency of approximately 1s. For both missions there
was an 8-minute round-trip delay for communications
between the RCC and the GCC. In 2016, the 1-second
RCC to rover latency was maintained for controlling the
J5. During the mission the participants were located in
the RCC. This was a single room with several computer
workstations that was meant to represent part of the
Alouette spacecraft en route to Mars. In 2014, the RCC
was located in the CSA’s ExDOC control centre, which
the CSA uses for their robotic deployment activities. In
both 2015 and 2016 temporary RCCs were set up on
campus at the SSP host university.
Fig. 7: RCC setup for RPEAM in 2015
The RPEAM organizing team acted as the ground
controllers for the missions and were working from
temporary GCCs established for the purpose. In 2014,
the GCC was in the CSA’s Rover Integration Facility
and in 2015 and 2016 it was in a separate room within
the same building of the host university. The main
personnel at the GCC were the Flight Director,
CAPCOM, Advanced Vision System officer, and
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Science Officer. Additional roles were established as
required.
A Mission Elapsed Time (MET) counter was created
using an online tool so that both the participants in the
RCC and the RPEAM organizers in the GCC could
accurately ascertain the elapsed mission time, and thus
the time remaining for each mission. This tool was used
to queue up responses from the GCC prior to be sent to
the RCC. This allowed for the 8-minute round-trip
delay without implementing a custom software solution.
Each mission began with a call from the GCC to the
RCC over the voice communications link, which was
broadcast to the entire RCC. This call included a 10
second countdown and a ‘GO for rover egress. Once
the mission began. it was beholden upon the team in the
RCC to conduct themselves in such a fashion as to
achieve their mission objectives. The organizing team
in the GCC continually observed the actions of the
participants and offered constructive aid in a manner
consistent with a real space mission.
Simulated malfunctions were planned for each
mission in order to test the contingency plans that were
developed by each team and to simulate conditions that
could be encountered on a real mission. Each team was
faced with a simulated Martian dust storm in the second
half of their mission. A call from GCC to RCC
provided simulated data theoretically obtained from the
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Participants
were given an approximate location of the dust storm
relative to the rover as well as the approximate speed
and heading of the motion of the storm. Participants
were left to calculate the approximate time the storm
would hit the rover and to develop and implement a
contingency plan to deal with any possible failures. The
timing of the storms was set such that teams could relay
their plan to the ground but that there would be
insufficient time due to the roundtrip latency for a
response to come back up from GCC.
Once the dust storm ‘arrived’ at the rover location
the team in GCC adjusted settings on the rover cameras
such that the team in the RCC saw increasingly
significant degradation of the images. Their responses
to this degradation were monitored and evaluated. After
a pre-determined length of time, based on the speed of
the storm, the image quality was returned to nominal.
In some cases, the output of a camera, or sensor, was
left degraded. The decision to leave some
cameras/sensors degraded/disabled was taken based on
an individual teams mission plan plans that were
reliant on payloads with a higher failure rate were
penalized in this fashion.
In several cases real malfunctions also occurred.
Part of the benefit of using real prototype hardware was
that systems or sub-systems could fail during the
mission creating realistic scenarios for the participants
to deal with. For example, one mission was cut short
due to a temporary over-temperature condition.
The primary objective for every team’s mission was
to conduct useful science in order to determine if a
rover’s location was appropriate as a landing site for the
team in the RCC. As such, a significant portion of the
mission time was dedicated to scientific activities such
as acquiring signatures using the XRD or LIBS or
analysing pictures or advanced sensor data for useful
scientific information. Each team’s science officer was
responsible for interpreting the signatures from the
sensors and determining what, if any, scientific
significance was present in an image or scan. Like a
real mission, the science officer in the RCC has the
option of requesting support from the ground team in
GCC. The decision to request an interpretation from the
ground came with the associated penalty of the round-
trip communications time as well as the analysis time on
the ground. Thus, each team’s mission manager had to
decide whether to wait at a potentially interesting
scientific site while data was downlinked, analysed and
the results uplinked, or to continue roving to the next
AOI. Team cohesion during such decision making
processes was noted and evaluated.
III. OUTCOMES
This section presents the outcomes from the three
successive RPEAMs. This section is divided into
Results, Lessons Learned by participants and Lessons
Learned by Organizers.
III.I Results
The following table summarizes the results from the
eight teams that have completed the RPEAM.
Team
Distance
Traversed
AOIs
Visited
Alpha ‘14
~190 m
2, 3, 4
Bravo ‘14
~75 m
2, 4
Alpha ‘15
~390 m
1, 3, 4
Bravo ‘15
~135 m
2, 4
Charlie ‘15
~300 m
1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Alpha ‘16
~200 m
1, 2, 5
Bravo ‘16
~220 m
1, 2, 5
Charlie ‘16
~350 m
1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Table 1: Mission Results
The average distance traversed by teams from 2014
was significantly less than that of teams from 2015 and
2016 due to the RCC to rover latency of 5s roundtrip
versus only 1s during 2015 and 2016.
As the RPEAM organizing team had placed
scientifically interesting samples at each of the AOIs,
every team was able to acquire data of scientifically
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interesting sites. Each team recommended that this
region was appropriate as a landing site given that it
contains landforms that feature signs of habitability, or
evidence that past - and in a few cases potentially
present - life exist. Teams ranked the areas of interest
within the landing site in terms of scientific priority for
follow-on study, and were evaluated on their final
science report to GCC.
III.II Participant Lessons Learned
This section summarizes the key points of feedback
that were provided to the participants during short
debriefs following each mission.
The team preparation began at the end of the fourth
week within the tightly scheduled nine-week SSP. The
participants were still getting to know one another.
After the formation of the teams, the mission planning
discussions were limited to about an hour. In 2015, each
nine-member team was composed of a minimum of
eight nationalities. The participants had a range of
technical backgrounds, cultural and personality
differences, and some differences in language skills. An
important factor for the team performance in the
simulation was the extent of their prior experience with
“operational” environments.
Communications
The use of voice communications in conjunction
with written messages improved overall communication
as voice imparts information beyond what a written
message can provide, yet written messages provide a
good complement as they are less prone to errors
especially when numbers are involved.
Each of the teams exhibited rapid improvements
during the course of the three-hour mission. The
communication within the team became more efficient.
As an example, the mission director on one team
communicated with the science officer through five
minute interactions early in the mission, while later she
requested information through a terse “science - status!”
command. The rapid progress of the teams during two-
to-three-hour missions confirmed the value of these
immersive simulations, and indicated additional
simulation time would be valuable.
Frequency of ground communications during the
first part of missions was often insufficient but tended to
improve through the course of the mission. This
improvement was aided by the hints in the
communications from GCC.
Sensor Use
Increased use of situational awareness sensors
during pauses in roving for science activities could have
improved navigational efficiency.
Many teams did not perform sufficient situational
awareness determination before egress from the lander.
This was thought to be due to the perceived pressure
induced from the countdown and a lack of
communication between team members during the early
mission phases.
Contingency Planning
Teams tended to develop well thought out
contingency plans for the dust storm especially
considering that they were not forewarned of such an
eventuality. Several teams re-located the rover to an
area which would protect it from prevailing winds (and
dust). Others simply planned to continue normal
operations unless sensor degradation prohibited this.
One team continued operating the rover despite heavily
degraded images. This was considered to be a poor
decision that reflected the team in question’s lack of
clear leadership.
Some teams quickly noticed the degradation of the
sensors during the dust storm while others did not notice
for some time. This lack of observation of a potential
failure was also observed during permanent
malfunctions. One team continued to receive the same
signature from their science sensor without realizing the
data was stale.
Team Organization and Efficiency
The high stress environment induced by the reality
of the mission simulation caused occasional
communication breakdowns which resulted in poor
navigational choices. These navigational inefficiencies
could have been mitigated by a flight director asserting
more authority and thereby ensuring that all team
member’s input was heard prior to a rover traverse
being initiated.
While each team coalesced into an operational unit,
some roles remained marginalized. The contributing
causes included language skills, culture, and personality
of participants, as well as uncertain procedures for how
to employ particular roles. For example, the driver and
director might discuss a risky driving path without
thinking to ask the individual assigned the safety role.
At the same time, the person in the safety role might not
speak up without being encouraged. Additional cycles
of simulation and debriefs would likely strengthen the
interactions within the teams and clarify roles and
procedures.
Some teams were occasionally gathered around a
single workstation, or console, such as the navigators or
science officers. This created confusion and reduced
the ability of the team to communicate. Most teams
were able to reduce such occurrences during the course
of their mission while for other teams it was never an
issue.
On several teams it was observed that a single team
member was mostly left out of the exercise or
voluntarily chose not to contribute. This was attributed
to a language barrier however the RPEAM organizing
team felt that this was a failure on the part of the flight
director to ensure good team cohesion, communication
and contribution.
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Timeline
Most teams effectively monitored their mission
timeline to ensure that they were able to achieve the
basic objectives of the mission within the allotted time.
Science Data Analysis
Occasionally RCC science officers jumped to
erroneous conclusions about what they were seeing
rather than simply reporting the findings and requesting
support from the GCC science team.
Two teams tested the use of each instrument early in
the mission to ensure nominal functionality. No
direction to do this had been provided by the RPEAM
organizers but it does represent a realistic mission
activity and was therefore considered an excellent
impromptu procedure.
Risk Tolerance
Some teams were very cautious in their approach to
driving while others accepted higher risk and drove
more aggressively. One team drove aggressively, but
with the consensus of the entire team and with
heightened awareness and oversight of the whole team
during the riskiest manoeuvres. Teams that drove
hazardously without this team-wide awareness and
oversight were reprimanded for their carelessness. In
both cases, the two teams who covered the most
distance were two of the least productive teams in
generating valuable scientific findings.
Psychological Response to Simulation
The excitement and focus provided by operating a
real rover across real terrain made a significant
difference in how the teams behaved. The participants
knew they were commanding a valuable robotic system
across hazardous terrain. In some cases, the focus on
driving the rover overwhelmed the attention to scientific
objectives or investigating unexpected phenomena. In a
few cases, a team would encounter a surface feature that
was recognized to be important, but too quickly the
attention would shift back to the task of driving to the
next objective.
The complexity and high fidelity of the entire
simulation provided a uniquely valuable experience for
the participants, and quickly allowed them to participate
in all aspects of the planning and execution of an
international space mission.
III.III Organizer Lessons Learned
This section summarizes key lessons learned by the
organizers.
The process of acting as a GCC for the participants
provided the organizers an excellent opportunity to
polish their skills of real-time operations. Through the
course of the eight missions conducted each of the
organizers improved his/her performance in terms of
team communications, efficiency, note-taking and
anomaly response.
The biggest single lesson learned was that the
amount of effort required to organize and implement
such an activity is significant and easily under-
estimated. Following the first successful RPEAM at
SSP’14 the team presumed that only marginal additional
effort would be required to complete the RPEAM for
SSP’15. However due to hardware and logistical
changes, the second RPEAM proved to be just as labour
intensive to plan as the original.
Several improvements to the GCC operating
procedures were made on the fly as the organizers
realized the benefits to the changes as they encountered
the need for them. In 2016, more specific planning by
the GCC science officer streamlined the process of
passing data to the RCC.
Moreover, in 2016, due to a variety of issues the
missions were not sufficiently introduced at an early
stage in the SSP. Limiting the RPEAM to the
departmental phase only without exposure to a larger
part of the class in early elective workshops restricted
such initial presentation. This resulted in some
confusion on the part of the participants about the
purpose and process of the RPEAM. More focus on
early delivery of RPEAM materials and efforts to
increase awareness of the activity would mitigate this
shortcoming.
The inclusion of RPEAM-related social media
activities before and during the workshop activities
provided a platform for space exploration and planetary
science outreach. Like in 2014 and 2015 the 2016
RPEAM activities were covered mainly using social
media channels (Twitter, Facebook). In 2016 the main
contributors were the Canadian Space Agency, ODG-
Argo, Mission Control Space Services and ISU's
external relations team on site. Also participants of the
SSP Humanities (HUM) department supported the
social media campaign as part of their outreach
curriculum. Initial numbers show that an audience of
more than 740.000 users was reached via Twitter
creating a number of more than 2.4 million total
impressions mainly during the ten-day period of the
activities with peaks on the two days of simulations.
IV. CONCLUSIONS
IV. Benefits
This activity proved beneficial for the participants
for several reasons.
It was an opportunity to work with real CSA-owned
prototype hardware developed in order to advance the
Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of rover systems
designed to be used in analogue field tests. Through the
use of real hardware, the participants were able to learn
some of the real challenges faced by engineers and
scientists as they design, develop and field test robotic
prototypes and scientific instruments.
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Participants were able to learn about, and
experience, a mission control scenario from organizers
who had vast experience working on real missions at the
Space Station and Space Shuttle control centres at
NASA’s Johnson Space Centre.
By bringing together aspects of engineering design,
scientific objectives and mission operations, participants
were able to appreciate the trade-off activities that are
required by real practitioners in these areas. They were
exposed to the fact that while a robotic mission’s main
objective is to conduct science, the design of the rover is
an engineering activity, yet one that can’t ignore the
operational concept of the mission. This activity fit well
with the ISU’s statement of the 3I’s: International,
Intercultural and Interdisciplinary.
The increasing impact of the RPEAMs on social
media channels over the last three years also showed the
wide interest in space exploration activities and
demonstrated the potential of analogue simulations to
engage the general public in space-related outreach
activities. It also provided a platform for the
participating institutions, companies and their partners
to communicate their activities and preparatory work in
the area of planetary science and exploration
successfully to an increasing audience
IV.II Future Work
At the time of this writing it has yet to be determined
if another RPEAM will be conducted at the SSP in
Cork, Ireland in 2017. The organizing team is working
to secure the necessary support in order to accomplish
another set of missions and is optimistic about the
outcome. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from
participants and department faculty resulted in a strong
recommendation from the department management to
continue the RPEAM as a regular activity in future
SSPs. If this support is forthcoming the team aims to
improve upon past RPEAM’s by applying lessons
learned from the previous three and by compiling a
larger database of results in order to be able to derive
meaningful hypothesis from the data.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.