Virtual exploration of Mars with the help of Austrian technology
Visual Computing for high-resolution images of Mars
Since July 30, 2020, NASA's fifth unmanned rover, "Perseverance," has been on its way to Mars, landing in the Jezero crater on February 18, 2021. The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will search for signs of ancient microbial life, advancing NASA's quest to explore the early habitability of Mars. The rover can also collect soil samples and then store them in sealed tubes. A future mission will then collect them and bring them back to Earth for detailed analysis. Perseverance will also test technologies that will pave the way for future human exploration of Mars. To that end, the Mars rover is equipped with seven scientific instruments. One of them is the Mastcam-Z camera system, the rover's "main eye." This highly innovative camera combines high-resolution, multi-color and stereo zoom to capture detailed images and data of the Martian surface. These images are sent back to Earth, where they are reconstructed into 3D terrain models by Joanneum Research and examined with PRo3D ("Planetary Robotics 3D Viewer"), the visualization tool of the VRVis Center for Virtual Reality and Visualization. "The unique selling point of PRo3D is that the viewer can handle particularly large data," says Chris Traxler, project manager at VRVis. "Another special feature is the possibility of precise measurements and annotations directly on the reconstruction, which allows extensive geological interpretations."
Space technology made in Austria
Using the tools integrated into PRo3D, NASA's planetary science team can measure and annotate 3D models of the Martian surface for geological and topographic features. This should provide valuable information to determine, for example, where the Mars rover should drill for rock samples in the future. The big goal is also to create a 3D map of the Martian surface noting all measurements made by the seven rover instruments, which will also allow the interpretation of the interaction of these data - another project VRVis and Joanneum Research developed together. Recently, VRVis made the PRo3D software open source available to the public and scientific community at www.pro3d.space.
The scientific lead for NASA's Mastcam-Z instrument is Prof. Jim Bell of Arizona State University with participation from Gerhard Paar of JOANNEUM Research in Graz. Prof. Koeberl (Uni Wien/ÖAW), Prof. Sanjeev Gupta and Rob Barnes (both from Imperial College London) are those planetary scientists with whom VRVis and JOANNEUM Research are closely cooperating.