The “Perseverance” rover, which is about the size of an all-terrain vehicle and weighs about 1,000 kilograms, was dropped into the Jezero crater on Mars in February 2021, says Gerhard Paar, 3D visualization expert at the research firm Joanneum Research (JR) in an interview. It is believed that there was a deep lake here about 3.5 billion years ago that emptied and filled up several times over time, creating suitable conditions for organic life. They hope the Mars 2020 mission will give them a better understanding of the planet’s geology, climate and history.
A team of experts from Joanneum Research’s Image Analysis and Measurement Systems research group evaluates the “Perseverance” images and compiles the captured images into a 3D model. The technology was developed by Joanneum Research. Just a few days after landing, the staff of the JR and the Vienna Research Center for Virtual Reality and Visualization (VRVis) presented the first video of about one and a half minutes – simulating a flight over the surface of Mars at the landing site of the Mars rover. It was created from about 100 pairs of images from the rover mast’s Mastcam-Z stereo cameras and is now available on YouTube. The Austrian evaluations mainly support the 3D measurements of geological researchers. More than 20 overflight videos have been made so far.
New data every day
The flow of high-resolution 3D images that are requested daily has not stopped since. “The rover has traveled about 8 miles so far, from the landing site to a southerly formation, then back to the landing site and for a few months now in the river delta that formed millions of years ago,” Paar said. The camera’s earlier images showed different terrain types: “From dunes to ridges with abrupt fractures. The latter allows you to see outcrops, i.e. outcrops of geological formations,” summarizes Paar.
The images recorded by the cameras are sent to Earth via a satellite cluster, the Deep Space Network. “The data is automatically retrieved daily from the Arizona State University server,” says Paar. The data analysis itself must be performed quickly so that the rover can take on new tasks and valuable time is not lost on site.
“Everything works amazingly well, the transmission quality was good from the start,” said Paar enthusiastically. “We get the images, our automated evaluation program generates 3D models and the 3D models can then be visualized with the VRVis software,” the Graz expert summarized. Paar’s team uses the images captured by the two powerful stereo, color and zoom cameras on the rover’s approximately two-meter mast to describe each pixel in three dimensions and to create so-called textured point clouds and finally visualizations. .
The funding of the Austrian activities has recently been extended by the research promotion agency FFG until 2024: “We can continue our evaluations for the next two years,” says Paar. So far, a joint publication and currently a new one has appeared in the journal “Science Advances”. The latter provides mapping and interpretation based on the first 360-degree 3D panoramas of the landing site and crater floor. A variety of rock types and geological units were found. The mapping provides evidence of volcanic origin for many of the rocks and outcrops.