Issues of geologically-focused situational awareness in robotic planetary missions: lessons from an analogue mission at Mistastin Lake impact structure, Labrador, Canada

Antonenko, I.; Osinski, G. R.; Battler, M.; Beauchamp, M.; Cupelli, L.; Chanou, A.; Francis, R.; Mader, M. M.; Marion, C.; McCullough, E.; Pickersgill, A. E.; Preston, L. J.; Shankar, B.; Unrau, T. and Veillette, D. (2012). Issues of geologically-focused situational awareness in robotic planetary missions: lessons from an analogue mission at Mistastin Lake impact structure, Labrador, Canada. Advances in Space Research, 52(2) pp. 272–284.



Remote robotic data provides different information than that obtained from immersion in the field. This significantly affects the geological situational awareness experienced by members of a mission control science team. In order to optimize science return from planetary robotic missions, these limitations must be understood and their effects mitigated to fully leverage the field experience of scientists at mission control.

Results from a 13-day analogue deployment at the Mistastin Lake impact structure in Labrador, Canada suggest that scale, relief, geological detail, and time are intertwined issues that impact the mission control science team‟s effectiveness in interpreting the geology of an area. These issues are evaluated and several mitigation options are suggested. Scale was found to be difficult to interpret without the reference of known objects, even when numerical scale data were available. For this reason, embedding intuitive scale-indicating features into image data is recommended. Since relief is not conveyed in 2D images, both 3D data and observations from multiple angles are required. Furthermore, the 3D data must be observed in animation or as anaglyphs, since without such assistance much of the relief information in 3D data is not communicated. Geological detail may also be missed due to the time required to collect, analyze, and request data.

We also suggest that these issues can be addressed, in part, by an improved understanding of the operational time costs and benefits of scientific data collection. Robotic activities operate on inherently slow time-scales. This fact needs to be embraced and accommodated. Instead of focusing too quickly on the details of a target of interest, thereby potentially minimizing science return, time should be allocated at first to more broad data collection at that target, including preliminary surveys, multiple observations from various vantage points, and progressively smaller scale of focus. This operational model more closely follows techniques employed by field geologists and is fundamental to the geologic interpretation of an area. Even so, an operational time cost/benefit analyses should be carefully considered in each situation, to determine when such comprehensive data collection would maximize the science return.

Finally, it should be recognized that analogue deployments cannot faithfully model the time scales of robotic planetary missions. Analogue missions are limited by the difficulty and expense of fieldwork. Thus, analogue deployments should focus on smaller aspects of robotic missions and test components in a modular way (e.g., dropping communications constraints, limiting mission scope, focusing on a specific problem, spreading the mission over several field seasons, etc.).

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