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In January 2004, NASA's twin Mars exploration rovers (MERs), spirit and opportunity, began searching the surface of Mars for evidence of past water activity. In order to localize and approach scientifically interesting targets, the rovers employ an on-board navigation system. Given the latency in sending commands from Earth to the Martian rovers (and in receiving return data), a high level of navigational autonomy is desirable. Autonomous navigation with hazard avoidance (AutoNav) is currently performed using a local path planner called GESTALT (grid-based estimation of surface traversability applied to local terrain). GESTALT uses stereo cameras to evaluate terrain safety and avoid obstacles. GESTALT works well to guide the rovers around narrow and isolated hazards, however, it is susceptible to failure when clusters of closely spaced, non-traversable rocks form extended obstacles. In May 2005, a new technology task was initiated at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to address this limitation. A version of the Carnegie Mellon University Field D* global path planner has been integrated into MER flight software, enabling simultaneous local and global planning during AutoNav. A revised version of AutoNav was uploaded to the rovers during the summer of 2006. This paper describes how global planning was integrated into the MER flight software, and presents results of testing the improved AutoNav system using the MER Surface System TestBed rover.
Aerospace Conference, 2007 IEEE
Date of Conference: 3-10 March 2007