Driving Farther and Faster With Autonomous Navigation and Helicopter Scouting

Perseverance is using autonomous navigation, "AutoNav", to quickly drive to features of scientific interest. Ingenuity has been scouting areas of potential interest to help decide which ones to investigate and to help Perseverance optimize the path to the selected destination. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We’ve been driving on Mars since 1997, beginning with the 83 sol Sojourner rover mission. Since 2003 with the arrival of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, followed by the Curiosity rover in 2012 and Perseverance rover in 2021 we have been continuously exploring the surface of Mars. The Perseverance mobility system was designed to enable faster and more precise autonomous driving than any prior mission. It has wheels optimized for rugged terrain, cameras with fast exposure times, wide navigation camera “Navcam” field of view, and a dedicated second computer and Field Gate Programmable Array “FPGA” for fast image processing. Visual Odometry, “VO”, tracks the motion of features in images as it is driving to provide accurate position estimates and measure slip. “Thinking-While-Driving” capability allows Perseverance to continuously drive while performing VO, generating a map of terrain geometry, and autonomously blending drive arcs and selecting a safe and efficient drive path. 

An example of how Autonav helps is the drive to the area called “Citadelle” where the rover collected its first rock samples. From where Perseverance was positioned on Aug. 20, 2021 (Sol 178), it needed to drive about 84 meters upslope crossing a narrow gap in a hazardous ridge toward the end to get to Citadelle. Images from the rover Navcams did not cover the gap. Images from Mars orbiters are valuable for strategic route planning, but not all rover hazards can be identified in them. Using AutoNav, Perseverance was able to drive all the way to the gap and autonomously find a safe path through the gap in a single drive. 

While Perseverance was conducting the sampling campaign at Citadelle, Ingenuity was performing flights over the rover's next potential sampling location in southern Séítah from an altitude of about 10m off the surface. Using the Ingenuity Return to Earth “RTE” camera images from Flight #12, the operations team was able to confirm the traversability of the planned strategic route into the area. On Sept. 12, 2021 (Sol 200) Perseverance drove 175.15m in a single sol setting up for the entry into Séítah after going as far as time available for driving would allow. After an 8m segment to build the initial terrain map, the remainder 167m of the drive used AutoNav – the farthest any of our Mars rovers have driven autonomously in a single sol. 

AutoNav and helicopter scouting are helping Perseverance navigate efficiently between regions of interest and focus more time on science campaigns. The road ahead Is looking pretty exciting as we explore the full range of Perseverance and Ingenuity capabilities.

About This Blog

These blog updates are provided by self-selected Mars 2020 mission team members who love to share what Perseverance is doing with the public.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these blogs are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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  • Mariah Baker
    Planetary Scientist, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
    Washington, DC
  • Iona Brockie
    Sampling Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Sawyer Brooks
    Docking Systems Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Denise Buckner
    Student Collaborator, University of Florida
    Gainesville, FL
  • Alyssa Deardorff
    Systems Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Kenneth Farley
    Project Scientist, Caltech
    Pasadena, CA
  • Brad Garczynski
    Student Collaborator, Purdue University
    West Lafayette, IN
  • Erin Gibbons
    Student Collaborator, McGill University
    Montreal, Canada
  • Louise Jandura
    Chief Engineer for Sampling & Caching, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Lydia Kivrak
    Student Collaborator, University of Florida
    Gainesville, FL
  • Rachel Kronyak
    Systems Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Matt Muszynski
    Vehicle Systems Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Pegah Pashai
    Vehicle Systems Engineer Lead, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • David Pedersen
    Co-Investigator, PIXL Instrument, Technical University of Denmark (DTU)
    Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Jennifer Trosper
    Project Manager, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Roger Wiens
    Principal Investigator, SuperCam / Co-Investigator, SHERLOC instrument, LANL
    Los Alamos, NM

Tools on the Perseverance Rover+

The Perseverance rover has tools to study the history of its landing site, seek signs of ancient life, collect rock and soil samples, and help prepare for human exploration of Mars. The rover carries:


Where is the Rover?

Image of a rover pin-point at Perseverance's location on Mars, Jezero Crater

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