Technology and Field Demonstration Results in the Robotic Search for Antarctic Meteorites
journal contributionposted on 01.01.1999, 00:00 by Dimitrios Apostolopoulos, Michael Wagner, William Whittaker
Robotic search for meteorites in Antarctica is an ideal test case for demonstration and field validation of planetary science rovers. Antarctica’s lengthy diurnal cycle, its harshness and its remote location present conditions and challenges similar to those encountered in missions to the poles of the Moon and Mars. This project has researched and developed the technologies and capabilities of an autonomous robot for the search of Antarctic meteorites. Nomad, a robot that explored 220 km of the Atacama desert in 1997, was winterized and outfitted with sensors and onboard intelligence for detection and in situ classification of rocks and meteorites. Nomad’s autonomous perception and navigation capabilities are appropriate for excursions in polar environments. This article first introduces the science and search for Antarctic meteorites and overviews Nomad’s robotic technologies. It then details Science Autonomy, Nomad’s control architecture and its functionality. The remainder of the article discusses Nomad’s performance in a meteorite search as it traversed ice terrains and endured harsh conditions in Patriot Hills, western Antarctica, during a six week expedition in late fall of 1998.