The primary objective of this ESA Study was to investigate the viability of aerial robots (aerobots) for planetary exploration. The consortium consisted of SciSys (prime) in cooperation with Joanneum Research and Aberystwyth University designed, developed and prototyped an Imaging and Localisation Package (ILP) for a free-flying Martian balloon. Aerobot technology could transform the way planets are explored combining the close-surface proximity of a rover with the large-area visibility of an orbiter. Drifting in the planetary winds aerobots have the potential to investigate tens of kilometres in relatively short periods of time. An ILP package will allow optimal acquisition of images to reconstruct accurate models of the surface of the explored planet and accurate localisation of the balloon with respect to the Martian surface. The ILP, by means of aerobot mounted camera and computer vision techniques successfully demonstrated the following components:
- acquire and store images of the surface at various resolutions
- construct and update a 3D model (DEM) of the surface (main JR task)
- constantly estimate the position of the aerobot as well as its motion with respect to the surface
- decide on the base of the communications budget, of the morphology of the surface and of the scientific information content the importance of the images, which images at which resolution/compression need to be transmitted to Earth.
Aerobot tested at ESTEC Planetary Test Bed (PTB).
Reconstructed scene using Aerobot Camera (Images courtesy of SciSys Ltd., UK and Joanneum Research, A)