“Perseverance”, a high-tech laboratory on wheels, is equipped with no fewer than 23 cameras – more on this in The Austro part of the Mars rover (science.ORF.at).
Images even of a “Mars fly” 100 meters away
The “Mastcam-Z” stereo camera is mounted on the extendable, approximately two-meter-high mast of the rover that is supposed to explore the planet. This high-resolution camera system for stereo images is intended to capture detailed images of the Martian surface – the zoom function is so powerful that even a “Mars fly” 100 meters away could still be recognized.
Researchers from Joanneum Research in Graz and the Vienna Research Center for Virtual Reality and Visualization (VRVis) are involved in processing this data in a project financed by the Climate Protection Ministry through a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA).
Structures are visualized
The “Mastcam-Z” instrument was mainly developed by Arizona State University, as reported by Gerhard Paar from the image analysis and measurement systems research group at Joanneum Research in Graz. It was selected to take pictures of the Martian surface in the area of the Jezero crater after the rover landed.
Joanneum Research and VRVis were again selected to make 3-D reconstructions and subsequent visualizations from these images. These should then enable scientists, among other things, to find interesting geological structures on the Red Planet that could contain clues to old traces of water and possibly extinct life.
“The aim is to create three-dimensional maps for further research, in which the data from the surface instruments can be localized and interpreted in their interaction,” said Paar, who has been accompanying research on Mars expeditions for years.
“Textured dot clouds”
The Austrian software delivers the three-dimensional evaluations to the “Mastcam-Z” science team. “We use the stereo images to describe and create each image point three-dimensionally, so-called textured point clouds as well as visualizations of them such as videos that simulate an overflight and thus clarify the spatiality of the landscape around the rover. VRVis provides the visualization component, ”said Paar.
With the 3-D viewer developed by VRVis, researchers will then be able to interactively explore and geological interpretation of the 3-D reconstructions of the Martian surface.
First week to set up
When the rover lands on Mars on Thursday, however, it will still be a while before the Austrian specialists can start evaluating the images: Paar expects the first 3-D evaluations about a week after landing. The rover team will spend the first few days testing the systems and instruments, switching the software from landing mode to driving mode, setting up communication channels to Mars satellites and Earth – and taking initial images of the surroundings. “These images are then already available to us for 3-D evaluations and visualizations,” says the mathematician from Graz.
For scientific evaluations you will have to wait a little longer: “They are only possible when the rover has moved a few dozen meters away from the landing zone after about two weeks,” explained the Graz expert.
Soil samples are positioned on the surface of Mars
In addition to the cameras and other sensors, the rover also has containers on board that are to be used to collect soil samples from the surface of Mars in scientifically promising areas. The sample tubes are closed with a highly complex mechanism and deposited in suitable places on the surface of Mars. Years later, the “Sample Fetching Rover” – a European contribution to the “Mars Sample Return” mission – will be collected and brought to Earth. “Our 3-D evaluations and visualizations will also help to identify and characterize areas of interest for such sampling,” explained Paar.