Tag Archives: Analogs

Demonstrating Science: From the Ames Research Center Science Back Room

Reposted from  https://blogs.nasa.gov/analogsfieldtesting/2012/07/31/post_1343767437112/ and https://blogs.nasa.gov/mission-ames/2012/08/31/post_1343858990664/.

Ames scientist Kimberly Ennico wrote this blog entry on July 20, 2012 while working on a field test for RESOLVE, the Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction. 

43rd anniversary of “One small step, One giant leap”

I write this after the conclusion of our multi-day field demo of the RESOLVE payload. Prior to any activity, as with all organized operational tests, a clear set of success criteria is identified. RESOLVE, having being defined by NASA’s exploration and technology divisions, has the following goals:

CAT 1 Objectives (Mandatory):

  1. Travel at least 100m on-site to map the horizontal distribution of volatiles

CAT 2 Objectives (Highly Desirable):

  1. Perform at least 1 coring operation.  Process all regolith in the drill system acquired during the coring operation
  2. Perform at least 1 water droplet demo during volatile analysis.

CAT 3 Objectives (Desirable):

  1. Map the horizontal distribution of volatiles over a point to point distance of 500m.

            * Surface exploration objective is 1km

  1. Perform coring operations and process regolith at a minimum of 3 locations.
  2. Volatile analysis will be performed on at least 4 segments from each core to achieve a vertical resolution of 25cm or better.
  3. Perform a minimum of 3 augering (drilling) operations

            * Surface exploration objective is 6 augers

  1. Perform at least 2 total water droplet demos.  Perform 1 in conjunction with hydrogen reduction and perform 1 during low temperature volatile analysis.

CAT 4 Objectives (Goals):

  1. Perform 2 coring operations separated by at least 500m straight line distance

            * Surface exploration is 1km

  1. Travel 3km total regardless of direction
  2. Travel directly to local areas of interest associated with possible retention of hydrogen
  3. Process regolith from 5 cores
  4. Perform hardware activities that can be used to further develop surface exploration technologies

At first glance, they are pretty much very operations based: 100 m (328 ft) here, 1 km (3,281 ft) there, three locations, three auger (drilling) ops, etc. They were the driving forces of this demo, no pun intended. Our main focus was to demonstrate the technology and the operations. However, as each day went on, you could hear on the voice loop the engineers asking more and more about what we scientists – those on site or in our “Ames science backroom” – were discussing and observing with each new scan, spectra, and image. Also, we actually found ourselves demonstrating science in this activity. That was the whole beauty of this project: science enabling exploration and exploration enabling science. Each team member, excited about roles played by others, united by our shared excitement in the concept of pushing our ability to explore beyond our home planet.

At the end of our field demo, we clocked 1,140 m (3,740 ft.) total in-simulation roving distance, 475 m (1,558 ft.) separation travel distance between hot spots, with total separation of traverses greater than 500 m. (1,640 ft.) We located nine hot spots, completed four auger operations, four drill operations, and four core segment transfers to the crucible (oven) for volatile analysis and characterization. We had seven remote operations centers plugged in to our central system. We logged 185,918 rover positions, collected 227,880 near-infrared spectra, 136,273 neutron spectrometer measurements, 139,703 drill measurements, 3,630 image data products, and wrote 2,446 console log entries.


Band-depth (a measurement of abundance) for a water band (at 1.5 microns) plotted for the whole simulation. Most of the water detected this way turned out to be “grass” in the spectrometer’s field of view, but we did rove over some pretty “dry areas.” Variety indeed. The red line shows our traverse path on July 19. (Right) Counts for the neutron spectrometer for the simulation. This aerial photo shows how we traversed over a range of geological features, a mixture of glacial (old outwash) and volcanic (olivine basalt) deposits. Image credit: NASA

While some of the ISRU technology demonstrations focused on pre-arranged drill tubes filled with pre-planned test materials, we were particularly excited to drill into the native tephra. Its saturated soil (up to 20%) is more consistent with the Mars surface rather than the lunar surface. If successful, this test also would show practical drill performance parameters for future Mars drill missions. The approved procedures allowed us to core down to a maximum of 50 cm (19.6 inches). We reached 45 cm in about 56 minutes. Then, instead of putting the sample into the oven, the core tube was “tapped” out onto the surface while the rover moved forward to lay out the sample for evaluation by the near infrared and neutron spectrometers. This was a new procedure developed jointly by the rover, drill, and science teams, which demonstrated a new way of extracting material and quickly evaluating it.


Artemis Jr rover DESTIN (drill) acquiring sample from native soil. Image credit: NASA


The Ames science backroom team, clockwise from top left: Erin Fritzler, project manager; Bob McMurray, system engineer; Kayla La France, intern; Ted Roush, scientist; Carol Stoker standing, scientist; and Jen Heldmann, scientist. Not shown: Stephanie Morse, system engineer; Josh Benton, electrical engineer; and me – Kim Ennico, scientist. With our team of nine people we staffed three consoles in two shifts, for eight-days.


Ames science team members in Hawaii. They were our main interface for the Ames backroom to the Flight, Rover and Drill teams, whose leads were in Hawaii, but whose support teams were at KSC in Florida, JSC in Texas, and CSA in Canada. Left to right: Rick Elphic, Real Time Science and Tony Colaprete, Spec. Photo by Matt Deans.

To end on a fun note: mid-way through the sim, I got my updated console request so I could monitor the neutron spectrometer and near infrared spectrometer simultaneously to look for correlations (this combination of techniques had never been done before). I spotted this one (image below) as we were roving about. Camera imagery had been down, so we were “in the dark” from visual clues. Upon seeing the two signals, I called out a strong hydrogen and water signal to the Science team in Hawaii over the voice loop.


Screengrab of one of my console screens. Top trace is the neutron spectrometer Sn counts showing a modest signal. Bottom traces are two different near-infrared water spectral regions that showed changes at the same time.

And it turns out we roved over this, a trench of water and a piece of aluminum foil reflecting the clear blue Hawaiian skies. The neutron spectrometer is designed to detect hydrogen at depth, whereas our near infrared spectrometer is more suited for surface water.


A test target along traverse path for July 19. Image credit: NASA

This target, like others we traversed over the past week (buried pieces of plastic, netting, etc.) had been dug out in the wee hours of the morning by other members of the RESOLVE operations team. Good way to get a few hours exercise after being cooped up behind monitors!

So what’s next? A “lessons learned” exercise is called out for next week. The different teams wrote down our learning points daily when they were fresh in our minds. We will review them as a team and move forward with the next steps – building a version that works in a vacuum. And our Ames backroom science team has identified a few science papers to write. We are excited!

For more information about the In-Situ Resource Utilization analog field test and the RESOLVE experiment package, visit www.nasa.gov/exploration/analogs/isru


Iterations of Science & Exploration

Reposted from https://blogs.nasa.gov/mission-ames/2012/07/19/post_1342737399087/.

Ames scientist Kimberly Ennico wrote this blog entry on July 16, 2012 while working on a field test for RESOLVE, the Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction. This week you can follow RESOLVE live on Ustream [Note: link was active in 2012].

On this 43rd anniversary of Apollo 11 launch, the moon is on my mind, naturally.

I am a NASA scientist who typically spends days in the office staring at my computer screen, “crunching” data, making plots, analyzing the results and writing up what is being demonstrated by the completed experiment. You know, that scientific method. The experiment could be an observing run at an observatory, a lab-based test or a series of images taken by a space telescope (at some past date) that is sent down to the ground or retrieved from a data archive. Quite frankly, I am often a passive (but always strongly passionate) participant in the advancement of science.

This week, I found myself in the rare moments where I am contributing to the operations of a space mission. In this case, it was a field demonstration of a future lunar rover. For full disclosure, in 2009 I also got the chance to participate in a real space mission with LCROSS, which was an amazing experience. This “field demo” experience is slightly different and provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the power and honest “truth of iteration” and how valuable it is for learning.

First, I need to set the stage. We are now in day four of a seven-day “field demo” of the RESOLVE payload. RESOLVE stands for Regolith and Environment Science & Oxygen and Lunar Volatiles Extraction. Snazzy name, eh? It is a payload designed to be on a movable platform on the moon. Its objectives are to locate areas of high-hydrogen, which is an indicator of possible water ice in the subsurface. After identifying a “hot spot” the rover is commanded to stop and begin initial “augering” with active monitoring for water and other molecular signatures. The augering process takes about an hour and samples down to about 30-50 centimeters (to give us a sneak-peak of what lies beneath). It can drill deeper, but the amount of subsurface material brought up is expected to be limited. If we find something interesting, the drill is put into place to drill down 1 meter, the limit of our initial surface detection methods, and extract “core samples” from a series of depths. Finally, the last leg of this “roving laboratory” is to take each of the “core samples” and place it inside an oven where it is heated to liberate the molecules. To identify what is in the sample, the vapors are collected by a mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph. It is essentially a mini-lab, very similar in approach to the Mars Science Laboratory currently en route to the Red Planet.


Right: The RESOLVE payload on the Artemis Jr. rover (left) and mock-lander (right) during a field demo exercise in Hawaii (Photo from RESOLVE team).

Why are we doing this? Well, not only has LCROSS data indicated the presence of water on the moon, but datasets from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Lunar Prospector, Cassini, Deep Impact and Clementine also point to “significant quantities” of hydrogen-bearing molecules, particularly in permanently shadowed craters near the lunar poles. The form of the hydrogen is widely debated, so there is a need for “ground-truthing.” Lets dig and sample that dirt! At the same time, these hydrogen-bearing molecules could also be extremely useful resources for water, propellant, etc. So in comes a trendy-buzz word in space circles, ISRU, which stands for In-Situ Resource Utilization.  Historically when explorers reached new lands on our planet, if you could “live off the land” using items that you found along the way, you considerably extended your exploration journeys because you have to carry everything with you (not to mention the related expenses). Hunting and gathering for food, making shelters from forests, mining local fossil fuels, etc. As we journey to other worlds, we can do the same.

Enter analog-missions. We’re using Hawaii for the moon. Sadly I am not there (my scuba diving urges will just need to wait). I am sitting in the “Science Backroom” here at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. It is basically a room full of desks, with lots of computers and monitors and headsets to hear audio loops.


Right: Me (left) and Carol Stoker, drill expert and Mars scientist, in the Ames Science Backroom looking over activities. Image credit: Jen Heldmann

Analog missions have been performed for years to validate architecture concepts, conduct technology demonstrations and gain a deeper understanding of system-wide technical and operational challenges. And let me say, on day four, it is doing exactly that. A lot of stops and gos, lots of “oh I wish I could see this or that,” etc. etc.

We have a distributed team, and this is not uncommon for most operations activity. Some are in Hawaii to assist with physical items associated with the rover and payload. At a nearby building in Hawaii, others have access to real-time data for monitoring and control. Supporting control centers are in place in Texas (NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston) and Florida (NASA’s Kennedy Space Center), while in California (here at Ames), others support the mission science with access to high-tech visualization tools. We all have our respective roles, but we need to work as an integrated team to achieve success. At the same time, “not all should speak at once” otherwise you talk past each other and you can miss things. So there is a bit of needed protocol at work. In our “science backroom” we talk with our on-site science reps Tony Colaprete & Rick Elphic who are actively monitoring the flight and rover voice-loops, which we may not always be listening in on. Our purpose is to focus on real-time and archival science analysis, because, when you come right down to it, we are exploring. We don’t know what we will find next.

This mission concept also is relying on humans to make decisions at critical junctions, so it is far from being an autonomous machine. And by involving people, you can run into some pretty interesting decision points. We are also test driving (pardon the pun) a new way to integrate our visualization of our data. We have the “typical” live telemetry from the instruments on the rover and their trends. But we are also overlaying in near-real time the instruments’ data and rover position onto a Google map. We are taking advantage of an existing data visualization tool and its properties (layers, grids, pin locations, commentary, etc.). And we are linking the photos from the on-board rover cameras to the Google maps just like people do with their holiday pictures. It is actually rather elegant, but also needs some tweaks.


Above: (Left) Screengrab of one of our visualization tools of a traverse-trek with data from the neutron spectrometer colorized to indicate signal strength. The green line shows the planned path; red line shows the actual path. Shown here is the trace from a “hotspot localization” routine so we can pinpoint the source further for analysis. (Right) Same scene but this time overlaid are locations of each of our rover-camera images, with one shown as an example.


Right: Examples of rover images before, during, and after a drilling exercise from (top) a fish-eye lens camera in the rover underbelly and (bottom) a camera that is coincident with the near infrared spectrometer field of view.

We are learning as we go. Each day we have a series of tasks to complete whether it is a number of meters to traverse, or completing the drilling of multiple sites, etc. Timeline is extremely important since in a real flight mission; there will always be limited items such as fuel or power. Roving plans are decided ahead of time, but things do not always go according to plan, especially if something we did not expect appears on our data streams or the rover does something unexpected on unexplored terrain. With each unexpected event, we learn.

My personal challenge is keeping up with all the conversations going on, those that address what we are seeing real-time, those that are focused on how we can improve our approach and those all about the real thing — when we do this on the moon.


Right: This was my monitor today as I was trying out a new method to look for a water signature, monitoring any correlation between the neutron spectrometer signal and various band depths from the near infrared spectrometer. My requests for a new visualization tool are being incorporated into the system and will be ready for me when I go on console tomorrow.