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Mock Mars Mission Tests Camera Design

Photonics.com
Apr 2012
TUCSON, Ariz., April 27, 2012 — The viability of a multiple-camera system designed for future NASA space vehicles was subject of a two-week simulated mission to Mars by five engineering students from the University of Arizona. 


Crew engineer and optical sciences major Sam Martin surveys the red planet-like environment surrounding the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. (Images: UA College of Engineering) 

As part of the Interdisciplinary Engineering Design Program at the University of Arizona College of Engineering, students developed the NASA-sponsored remote imaging system acquisition (RISA) for their senior project. The project, currently in its sixth year of development, is sponsored by NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Future NASA space vehicles will have less room based on new mission requirements, which is why NASA has specified that RISA should incorporate the ability to have multiple cameras in one system. RISA will have to work double duty as a camera for rover-based planetary surface exploration and for onboard use in NASA space vehicles.


NASA RISA project team members Kyle Stephens (left) and videographer Daniel Land. 

The student researchers, dubbed Crew 117, were holed up for two weeks in the Mars Desert Research station, a simulated Mars habitat managed by the Mars Society near Hanksville, Utah. During the mission, they simulated living on Mars, including treating the outside environment as the space environment and using simulated space suits, called “sim suits,” for all extravehicular activities (EVAs). They lived in a two-story habitat, known as the “hab,” from where they had access to a greenhouse, a telescope and observatory, and all-terrain vehicles for EVAs.

“The surrounding area is very remote, so the complete isolation aids in creating the simulated environment,” said Kyle Stephens, crew commander and optical engineering senior. This was his second simulated mission.

“We are testing the camera’s electrically tunable multispectral filter by imaging the atmosphere at specific wavelengths to determine water vapor content,” Stephens said.

Besides the EVAs, the team explored the area using a small remote-control rover. Because the camera was built as a wireless system, the crew also was able to use the camera for robotic navigation.


Members of Crew 117 in front of the “hab” are (l-r) Daniel Land, Kyle Stephens, Jackeline Mayer, Samuel Martin and Parker Owan.

To prove that the camera could be used for everyday operational duties, the students performed duties such as determining water tank levels, monitoring crew activities, checking plant health in the greenhouse and monitoring equipment operation. Their findings will be incorporated into RISA and readied for the team to present May 1 at Engineering Design Day 2012 held on the university’s campus.

The team still has some work to do before the RISA project is ready for operation, however.

“While we focused on developing key components, like the optical design and the wireless communication system, more work will need to be done to create a flight-certified system,” Stephens said. “Finishing the project was not in the scope of our year, but we have compiled a great amount of information and hardware that will help future teams move forward with the project.”

For more information, visit: www.arizona.edu 


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