May 18, 2024

NASA’s OPTIMISM – Upgraded Perseverance Mars Rover Twin – Begins Terrain Tests

Upgraded with new functions, the twin of NASAs Perseverance Mars rover comes to JPLs Mars Yard garage on October 29, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
OPTIMISM, the full-scale engineering model of Perseverance, starts a series of rigorous tests to examine the risk of potential driving risks on the surface of the Red Planet.
On a current day in November, the car-size rover rolled gradually forward, then stopped, set down on the limit of a Martian landscape. This rover, named OPTIMISM, wasnt on the Red Planet. And the landscape was a boulder-strewn mock-up of the genuine Mars– the Mars Yard at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
OPTIMISM, a twin of the Perseverance rover that is exploring Jezero Crater on Mars, will perform an essential task in the weeks ahead: navigating the Mars Yards slopes and risks, drilling sample cores from boulders, and saving the samples in metal tubes– similar to Perseverance is performing in its hunt for indications of ancient microbial life. Short for Operational Perseverance Twin for Integration of Mechanisms and Instruments Sent to Mars, OPTIMISM is more generically referred to as a vehicle system test bed, and the recently updated rover starts evaluating out new devices for the very first time this month.

OPTIMISM deals with a doorway of JPLs Mars Yard garage soon after arriving there on October 29, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The tests assist guarantee that OPTIMISMs twin on Mars can safely carry out the commands sent out by controllers in the world. They also might possibly reveal unexpected issues Perseverance might experience.
“We evaluate a lot of that, figure out what kinds of things to avoid. What we have actually safely passed through around here has informed rover motorists in preparing their traverses on Mars. Weve done so much testing on the ground we can be positive in it.
About as long as a doubles tennis court and two times as wide, the Mars Yard has worked as a screening ground for lots of a fully-engineered rover twin– from the engineering model of the really initially, small Sojourner that landed on Mars in 1997 to the Spirit and Opportunity objectives that began in 2004 to the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers exploring Mars today.
On October 29, 2021, a durable automobile transfers the Perseverance rovers engineering model, called OPTIMISM, from a test laboratory to the Mars Yard garage at JPL. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
In each case, a rover double has scaled slopes, dodged challenges, or helped rover coordinators puzzle out new courses on the simulated spot of Mars. OPTIMISM first presented into the Mars Yard in September 2020, when it performed mobility tests.
And while the group has already performed tests using the coring drill at the end of OPTIMISMs robotic arm, theyll be checking the recently set up Adaptive Caching Assembly for the first time in the Mars Yard. The assembly on Perseverance is accountable for saving rock and sediment samples.
” Now we can do it end-to-end in the test bed,” said the Vehicle System Ted Bed systems engineering lead, Jose G. Trujillo-Rojas. “Drill into the rock, gather the core sample, and now we have the system responsible to cache that sample in the cylinder.”
And if issues arise on Perseverance on Mars, OPTIMISM can be used as a platform to figure out what failed and likewise how to fix it.
Twin Twins
On this November day, a durable automobile transferred OPTIMISM from a JPL test lab to the Mars Yard garage. Just recently expanded, the structure also offers shelter to one of Curiositys Earthly counterparts: MAGGIE, or Mars Automated Giant Gizmo for Integrated Engineering. A 2nd Curiosity double, a skeletal variation called “Scarecrow” that does not have a computer system brain, is housed in a separate shed in the Mars Yard.
MAGGIE would be joining OPTIMISM in the Mars Yard garage in the days ahead.
For now, the test-bed team was focused on OPTIMISM. “Straight 5 meters forward: Ready?” Leann Bowen, a test bed engineer, called out from a computer console inside the garage.
” All right, bring her home, Leann,” Trujillo-Rojas said.
Engineering models of the Curiosity Mars rover (foreground) and the Perseverance Mars rover share area in the garage at JPLs Mars Yard.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
With a whine of electric motors, OPTIMISM crept forward on its six metal wheels, stopping right on the mark on the garages concrete flooring as members of the test-bed group looked on in their white lab coats. Through a wide-open door ahead of the rover, the Mars Yard beckoned.
Drilling core samples from terrestrial rocks in the Mars Yard and sealing them in metal tubes is not as straightforward as it might sound. JPLs Mars team offers a variety of rock types for OPTIMISM to drill through, considering that the exact nature of the rock Perseverance will come across typically cant be understood in advance. Surface is a variable, too: One previous test with the robotic arm involved parking the rover on a slope, then instructing it to drill.
” There was a possibility that the rover may slip,” Trujillo-Rojas stated. “We wished to check that first here on Earth before sending directions to the rover on Mars. That was scary, since you can envision if you drill in this manner, and the rover a little slipped back, the drill might have gotten stuck.”
OPTIMISM drilled the core effectively, suggesting Perseverance likewise could pull off drilling on a slope if required.
Test Drive
With longer drives in Perseverances future, another job for the Earth-bound twin will include presenting new obstacles to the rovers autonomous navigation system, or AutoNav. Perseverance utilizes an effective computer to make 3D maps using rover images of the terrain ahead, and utilizes those maps to prepare its drive with minimal human support.
In Mars Yard tests, the twin rover might stop briefly as it “thinks through” numerous possible options– or perhaps chooses, suddenly, to avoid obstacles altogether and just walk around.
” Seeing the rover autonomously move in the Mars Yard, you sort of get that sense of being linked to the rover on Mars,” he stated. “It offers you that visual connection.”
Of course, OPTIMISM and its human group must compete with ecological aspects really different from those come across by Perseverance, which is built for freezing temperature levels and intense radiation. Earths stronger gravity needed OPTIMISMs metal wheels to be thicker than its Martian counterparts. And its electronics often need to be cooled to avoid damage from Southern Californias summer season temperatures– the opposite of the issue brought on by deep cold on Mars.
” On Mars, we attempt to keep the rover warm,” Trujillo-Rojas stated. “Here, were trying to keep it cool.”
Deer, bobcats, tarantulas, even periodic snakes, find their way into the Mars Yard. Wildfire in the region can fill the air with smoke. And screening and staffing schedules had to contend with COVID-19.
” Weve been through a lot of difficulties with this rover,” he stated. “As soon as we were going to begin constructing it, with hands-on combination, the pandemic happened. And after that we had rains, and we got a great deal of fire. We needed to leave the lab– smoky!”
Now, a revamped OPTIMISM is ready to get back to work.
” Its a big milestone for our group,” Trujillo-Rojas stated.
More About the Mission
A key goal for Perseverances objective on Mars is astrobiology, consisting of the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will identify the planets geology and previous climate, pave the method for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first objective to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to gather these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for extensive analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission belongs to NASAs Moon to Mars exploration approach, which consists of Artemis missions to the Moon that will help get ready for human exploration of the Red Planet.
JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

And the landscape was a boulder-strewn mock-up of the genuine Mars– the Mars Yard at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
What we have actually securely traversed around here has actually informed rover motorists in preparing their traverses on Mars. And while the group has actually currently performed tests using the coring drill at the end of OPTIMISMs robotic arm, theyll be checking the recently set up Adaptive Caching Assembly for the very first time in the Mars Yard. JPLs Mars group offers a variety of rock types for OPTIMISM to drill through, since the specific nature of the rock Perseverance will come across often cant be understood in advance. “We wanted to check that initially here on Earth before sending out instructions to the rover on Mars.