The use of GIS, mapping, and immersive technologies in the CanMars Mars Sample Return analogue mission; advantages for science interpretation and operational decision-making
The CanMars Mars Sample Return (MSR) analogue mission was a high-fidelity rover campaign conducted over a total of five weeks in November 2015 and November 2016. The analogue mission team consisted of a Mission Control Team located at the University of Western Ontario (Western) in London, Ontario, Canada, and a Field Team including the Mars Exploration Science Rover (MESR) platform conducting in situ field operations in the desert north of Hanksville, Utah, USA. This location served as an analogue martian terrain for the duration of the CanMars mission campaign. The main science goal of the mission was to explore the field area using the MESR platform in order to locate and sample geologic materials best suited for identifying evidence for the existence of past or extant life. The CanMars analogue mission necessitated the organization and interpretation of several remote sensing datasets to provide regional morphological and compositional context for the lithological units observed by the rover in the operational field area. These tasks were given to the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and Mapping team, a sub-team of the Mission Control Team located at Western. These remote sensing datasets were intended to be used as analogues for remote sensing data currently available for the Martian surface and included a HiRISE equivalent full colour Quickbird-2 satellite image (60 cm/pixel), a HiRISE/CTX approximating DEM (5 m/pixel horizontal resolution and a vertical accuracy on the order of 4 m or less), and CRISM and THEMIS equivalent visible to thermal infrared spectral images from Landsat-8 and ASTER (15-90 m/pixel). The GIS and Mapping Team used these datasets in concert with a range of additional derived data products (e.g., hillshade, slope, spectral and thermal inertia maps, etc.). This information was analyzed to create interpreted geomorphological maps of the operational field area. A major goal of the GIS and Mapping Team was to provide valuable contextual information to the Science and Planning Teams pertaining to the rover's position and the characteristics of the surrounding landscape and geology. The GIS and Mapping Team made use of geographic information systems including ArcMap and ArcScene to create a detailed database of geologic and geographic information as well as to derive additional geospatial data products. Additionally, the CanMars analogue missions provided an ideal setting to test the use of immersive virtual reality (VR) technology to aid scientists with both data and image interpretation as they conducted remote field operations. This included the development and implementation of immersive versions of the 360° panoramic images taken by the rover and an interactive immersive VR terrain model of the rover landing site and surrounding area. In the inherently time-sensitive role of interpreting data before sending the rover platform its next set of commands, the immersive technologies became important tools to facilitate a rapid understanding of the rover's location and orientation was well as the geologic and topographic setting of the surrounding region. These immersive products provided a first-person experience of the rover's surroundings that aided in the discussion and decision-making efforts of the CanMars team.