Haughton-Mars Project

Simulating the arid, rocky terrain explorers might encounter on future space missions to planets and moons, from July 26 to August 8, 2010, the NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) is conducting robotic field test at the Haughton Crater on Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic. Scientists are putting robotics to the test, partnering with NASA to assess concepts for future remote planetary exploration as part of the Haughton-Mars Project, or HMP-2010.

"Explorers, such as geologists, often find themselves with a set of observations they would have liked to make, or samples they would have liked to take, if only they had been able to stay longer at a site," said Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Our work this year is to study how remotely operated robots, perhaps even vehicles previously used for crew transport, can be used to perform follow-up work."

Site surveys can involve tedious and repetitive tasks, and by using teleoperated robots for follow-up activities, NASA is hoping to pull more useful information from their missions.

The potential challenges of remote research are great. From communication and transportation logistics to weather and instrument efficiency, space work is a desolate environment, and the Canadian arctic puts NASA engineers to the test.

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Working inside Haughton Crater

This first-hand journal entry was written on location on July 26 by team member Terry Fong

On Sunday & Monday (July 25-26), the K10 field team worked at "Site B" inside Haughton Crater. Site B is located approx. 1.5 km SSW of HMP base camp, but requires more than 30 min to reach (the access route is somewhat roundabout). The terrain at Site B is fairly challenging and not accessible by HMMWV. Thus, all terrain vehicles (ATVs) have to be used to transport people and equipment.

During the past two days, the field team has been solving a whole series of issues involving wireless networking, ground penetrating radar operation, power faults, USB connectors, and steering problems. None of these issues has been major, but addressing them all at once has meant a lot of hard work for the field team. Matt reports that everyone is still in good spirits, but looking forward to their day off on Wednesday (July 28).

On Sunday, Kelsey and Pascal repeated one of the "EVA" (extra-vehicluar activity) traverses that was done last year in preparation for this year's "robotic follow-up" test. The EVA gave Kelsey an opportunity to gain first-hand exposure (from a field geologist perspective) to the information used to plan K10 activities. This will make it easier for Kesley to support K10 science planning and data analysis.

Take a look inside the Intelligent Robots Group at NASA Ames.
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Field Team

IRG's field team poses with the K10 planetary rover. From left to right: Trey Smith, Vinh To, Hans Utz, Eric Park, Susan Lee, K10, Tiffany Montague, Matt Deans, Kira Lorber (HMP logistics manager), Pascal Lee, and Ping Pong (le chien de Pascal).

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Preparing for Remote Operations

This first-hand journal entry was written on location July 29 by team member Linda Kobayashi

IRG spent today working at both HMP and NASA Ames to prepare for the second half of this year's K10 field test. Here at Ames we have been eagerly waiting for the high-bandwidth satellite link to fully come online, so that we can start full remote operations with K10. We had some sporadic connections today, which allowed many of our systems at Ames to connect with machines in the field. Also for a portion of the day we had limited Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) voice communications. We expect the link will be fully tuned within the next day or so.

Despite the limited network connection today, many of us at Ames were able to communicate with the field team members using instant messaging. I had the opportunity to chat with Hans and Vinh, but I also saw Trey and Susan online as well. I am happy to hear from many of the folks in the field since for almost two weeks now we've been mainly receiving only daily reports.

Tomorrow at Ames we will complete setup of K10 "ground control" (computers, voice loops, protocols, etc.) and continue testing the communications link. The field team is planning to remain near HMP base camp and will setup logistics for field work at "locale 9", which is located about 500 m from camp.

Take a look inside the Intelligent Robots Group at NASA Ames.
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Day off

This first-hand journal entry was written on location on July 28 by team member Terry Fong

After working for 11 days at HMP, the field team is taking a well-deserved break today. Time to catch up on email, do some laundry, read a book, and enjoy the spectacular landscape of Devon Island.

Steve Braham continues to work on setting up C-band satellite communications and a wireless data network, which will allow K10 to be remotely operated from NASA Ames. Once this is in place, the "ground control" team will use K10 to perform robotic follow-up work at sites located north of HMP base camp.

The weather remains good and HMP camp is still bustling with activity.

Take a look inside the Intelligent Robots Group at NASA Ames.
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K10 completes "site b"

This first-hand journal entry was written on location on July 30 by team member Terry Fong

Today was a good day in the field. The team completed all traverses and measurements planned for "Site B" with K10. The robot performed well and all instruments functioned nominally. The weather was clear and sunny, so Matt managed to take a lot of photos and videos as well.

Steve Braham has been working to establish "full speed" (1-2 Mbps) satellite communications at HMP base station. He is mid-way through his setup and should be ready to do check out testing with the ground control team at NASA Ames on Thursday (July 29).

Tiffany Montague was scheduled to depart from HMP today. In fact, she took off on a plane in late afternoon. However, due to a problem at Resolute Bay, the plane had to return by evening. Thus, Tiffany is enjoying another night in camp with the K10 team.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, July 28), the field team will take the day off. Matt says that he plans to do some laundry, read a book, and (finally) send some email off to friends and family. Others have similar plans. The weather looks good for the next couple of days, but is then forecast to turn to rain (and perhaps snow) by Sunday.

Take a look inside the Intelligent Robots Group at NASA Ames.
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Ghost in the Network

This first-hand journal entry was written on location on July 30 by team member Terry Fong

Outside, it was a great day today. The weather was beautiful with deep blue skies and lots of sun. Inside, however, was a different story... For most of the day, Eric and Trey worked with Steve Braham to debug the data network, trying to isolate the cause of severe packet loss, which has made it extremely difficult to check out voice comms and K10 telemetry. By days end, the cause still had not been found.

While Eric and Trey worked with Steve, the rest of the field team began installing K10 Red on top of the "Mars 1" Humvee. We will be using K10 in this configuration late next week as part of an experiment for the NASA Johnson Lunar Surface Systems office. In addition, Matt went out to "locale 9" and began preparing logistics for K10 operations.

Back in California, the team at NASA Ames finalized K10 ground control setup. All user interfaces, displays, and procedures have now been finalized. In addition, two of our "flight directors", Tim Kennedy and Rob Landis, have arrived. Tim and Rob will be responsible for running "tactical operations" with K10 once we start remote operations. Tomorrow (Saturday, July 31), the K10 science team will begin arriving. The science team will be led by Mark Helper (Univ. of Texas - Austin) and Essam Heggy (Jet Propulsion Laboratory).

Take a look inside the Intelligent Robots Group at NASA Ames.
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