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How did AI help in Space?
The journey to explore Mars started in 1997, when the first successful landing was accomplished on the Martian surface by Rover Sojourner. Since then, several rovers have been launched to explore the Planet. Each time a rover was sent, it was sent with new mission, objectives and most importantly New technology.
What is a Rover?
A rover is a vehicle that is developed to travel across Surface of a planet. They are used to explore and collect samples to understand the planets ecosystem. The development of technology helped scientists discover more about the Martian Planet. The first Rover travelled only a 100 meters before losing Communications with Earth. The rovers to come would last for years all together.
As of latest, Perseverance rover reached the Martian surface on February 8th. It would accompany Curiosity Rover which has been active for the past decade. Perseverance is equipped with the most modern technology, unlike the previous rovers. It is built with the prospects of future manned missions to space.
What makes Perseverance space-ial?
Perseverance marked its journey after a historic landing in the Jezero Crater. The body of Perseverance is a Warm Electronics Box or WEB and receives its energy from Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators. It can drive 3 times faster than any of the previous rovers. It has a maximum speed of 4.4cm per second, which is one-thirtieth the speed of a Human Walking.
The rover is powered by 4.8 kilograms of Plutonium 238. This can supply the rover with 110 watts of electrical power continuously. A pair of lithium-ion batteries works in tandem with the RTG. Its wheels have a tread pattern and a larger diameter to protect it from Ventifacts.
The Space Technology aboard Perseverance
The rover travelled through space to Mars carrying various equipment to perform Experiments. It has a blend of tech such as IoT, robotic, cloud storage, Artificial Intelligence and much more.
- Terrain Relative Navigation [TRN]: It is an automated hazard avoidance system. TRN uses real-time images from its camera with an onboard map of the Jezero Crater. The map is created with high-definiton orbital images of the crater area. It triggers its retro rockets if it detects a hazardous obstacle.
- SuperCam: It is a multi functional instrument which contains 3 separate spectrometers. One of them is called Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy. It has a microphone used to record sounds during the tense “7 minutes of terror” touchdown sequence.
- Drilling Equipment: The rover is equipped with a drill that uses rotatory motion with or without percussion to penetrate the Martian surface and collect samples. The drill is equipped with 3 different kinds of attachments that help with collection and analysis.
- MOXIE: Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment is an electrically powered oxygen generator. It convers Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere to Oxygen.
- PIXL: The robotic arm of Perseverance will use an AI powered device called Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry or PIXL. It is a lunch-box size instrument placed at the end of the 7 foot long robotic arm. A tiny X-ray beam blast from PIXL can detect over 20 chemical elements by pointing a beam at the rocks. The beam produces a glow associated with each element in 10 seconds.
- SHERLOC: Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals seeks out organic molecules and minerals which help the science teams where to collect and cache samples. Its Ultra Violet laser provides a glow depending on the organic molecule and mineral it detects.
- WATSON: Sherloc will have his Watson even on the Martian surface. Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering is a camera that can take microscopic images of grains in rocks and textures.
- MEDA: Mars Environment Dynamics Analyzer is the monitoring system which comprises of sensors. It will help scientists study weather science, dust and radiation. It will also help scientists analyze Martian seasons.
- VCE: Vision Compute Element is an autonomous technology used in self driving cars on Earth. Aboard Perseverance, it helps the rover perform “thinking while driving.” Its installation was to assist in the landing and avoid obstacles on the Martian Surface.
- AWS & SBC-2: HPE’s specialized, second generation Space Borne Computer-2 is used to compute the details and make it available to the researchers on the ISS. Jet propulsion Laboratory will make use of the cloud services of Amazon Web Services to store, process and distribute the high volume data obtained by the rover.
Ingenuity in Space
Ingenuity is tiny drone based helicopter running on LINUX. It is used to assess flight operations in the thin Martian Atmosphere. It weighs 2kg , 1.2 meters wide and carries 2 computers . It can travel distances up to 300 meters. It can hover 3 to 4.5 meters for 90 seconds. Engineers will test its ability to fly autonomously.
Perseverance is Key
Perseverance will collect up to 43 samples during its 2-year mission. These samples will be stowed in white tubes on the Martian Surface. These would return back to Earth on future planned mission. The locations of these tubes will be catalogued. Orbiter images will identify the sample locations to within 1 meter and rover will increase the accuracy to within 1cm.
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