NASA welcomes the Perseverance rover’s improved ability to choose its own targets as a way to speed up science on Mars.
Without explicit direction from Earth, the Perseverance rover zapped two rock targets with its SuperCam instrument on Sol 442 (May 18) to learn more about their elemental compositions, mission scientists said in an update Tuesday, May 31. on the Mars mission.
“Normally, when the rover team selects targets, observations are not made until the next day,” Roger Wiens, SuperCam principal investigator and planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in a statement. (opens in a new tab). “If Perseverance chooses its own targets, it can shoot them right after a drive.
“Having SuperCam results immediately can alert the team to unusual compositions in time to make decisions about further scans before the rover moves on,” Wiens added.
Related: 1 year later, the Ingenuity helicopter continues to operate on Mars
Perseverance’s software for target selection is called Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Augmented Science (AEGIS), which was developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California for other rover missions, Wiens said. The software was then adapted for Perseverance’s SuperCam instrument.
“AEGIS requests Navcam imagery, then analyzes the images to find rocks and prioritizes them for analysis based on size, brightness and several other characteristics,” Wiens said. “It then initiates a sequence in which SuperCam fires its laser to determine the chemical composition of one or two priority targets selected from the Navcam images.”
AEGIS was tested for this new capability starting in March. In May, the rover also took images to show where the laser (a new addition to the test footage) was used. With this successful test, the team plans to use AEGIS “to provide faster data on rock composition around the rover’s path,” Wiens added.
Perseverance landed on Mars on February 18, 2021 and, with a helicopter called Ingenuity, is exploring an ancient river delta in an environment that was potentially rich in microbes billions of years ago.
The rover will cache its most promising samples for a future mission that will pick up the materials and return them to Earth in the 2030s.