Characterizing Rock Abundance At ExoMars Landing Site Candidates

Sefton-Nash, E.; Bridges, J. C.; Kissick, L.; Butcher, F.; Donnelly, P.; Piercy, J. D.; Vago, J. L.; Loizeau, D.; Lorenzoni, L.; Grindrod, P. M. and Balme, M. (2016). Characterizing Rock Abundance At ExoMars Landing Site Candidates. In: 47th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, 21-25 Mar 2016, The Woodlands, Texas, USA.



We present preliminary work to characterize surface rock abundance at ExoMars Rover landing site candidates. A challenge in quantifying the
abundance of surface rocks is using the population of large (≳1 m) rocks that are resolved in orbital images to infer the size of the smaller, unresolved rock population. This is particularly relevant for the ExoMars Rover mission, where the Landing Module’s clearance of 35 cm makes it necessary to know the probability of encountering rocks where 0.35 < D < 1 m.

‘Float rocks’ are individual fragments of rock not associated with a continuous outcrop or body of rock —e.g. transported rocks or impact debris. These can be identified in Mars Reconnaissence Orbiter HiRISE
images, where the mid-afternoon local solar time, dictated by MROs’ orbit, causes float rocks to appear as bright sunlit features adjacent to strong shadows. However, the smallest features resolvable in HiRISE images occupy around 3-4 pixels, corresponding to ~1-m sized rocks. This inherently limits the ability to directly identify from orbit the small, but potentially hazardous rock population. ‘Outcrop’ is defined as continuous expanses of bedrock or surficial deposits exposed at the surface. Both float rocks and outcrop can contribute to slopes that may constitute a hazard for landed missions.

We present rock counts at ExoMars Rover landing site candidates and assess approaches to constrain the morphological characteristics of Mars’ surface that are relevant to rover and lander safety.

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