Three Tiered Approach to Planet Exploration

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Three Tiered Approach to Planet Exploration

Post  The one and only Gerson on Wed Aug 26, 2009 10:18 pm

Three Tiered Approach to Planet Exploration

http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/080702-wall-e-explorers.html

This article discusses a new "tiered" approach deploying robots to explore the surface of other planets. They would first start with an orbiter which would scout the majority of the planet from space to determine a suitable landing site. Then this orbiter would deploy some sort of dirigible to go down through the atmosphere and scout the best suitable site to land from within the area specified by the orbitor. From this dirigible a rover would be lowered down to the surface by tether. The ultimate goal for this method of exploration is to take humans out of the equation. For planets farther away in our solar system, it takes a signal from Earth over an hour to travel that distance, making quick decisions impossible. The hope is that a system can be built where the orbiter and subsequent robots make the decision themselves as to where the best possible landing site is located. This way, the scientists back on Earth can worry about what is actually found by the robots instead of dealing with the complicated landing process themselves. The article makes the allusion to EVE, the explorer robot from Disney's WALL-E, as a very similar approach to what they are trying to do. By giving the power of decision to the rovers, scientists also hope that the rover will be able to respond to changes and observe them, like a landslide or a geyser. Testing for the decision making ability of the orbiter is already underway at Caltech, where they have constructed a mock landscape for a camera to take pictures of and decide the most suitable location of landing. Needless to say that this software is still in the developing stages, but the students and professors at Caltech have high hopes for it in the future.
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