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Technologies of Broad Benefit
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Technologies of Broad Benefit: Software Engineering

Software Engineering technologies provide the computing and commands necessary to operate the spacecraft and its subsystems.

Software Engineering Innovations for the Mars Exploration Rover Mission:

Steering Clear of Danger

This image shows the auto navigation display and highlights the many paths that the rover considers as it faces an obstacle.  Ultimately, the rover chooses the safest path.
This image shows the auto navigation display and highlights the many paths that the rover considers as it faces an obstacle.  Ultimately, the rover chooses the safest path.
Building on Pathfinder's autonomy, the twin rovers are better able to steer clear of danger. This mission marks the first implementation on a flight vehicle of a new version of navigation and hazard-avoidance software, developed at Carnegie Mellon University. [More in the Autonomous Planetary Mobility section]

Two other embedded applications combine software and hardware performance. First, a motor controller stabilizes the motors that control elements like the rover wheels and the brushes on the rock abrasion tool (RAT). Another first-time flight component is a battery-controlled board that balances the charge on batteries, serves as a nighttime computer and controls the clock.

Gaining Better Eyesight

The panoramic camera and the navigation camera are on the panoramic camera mast assembly (PMA).
The panoramic camera and the navigation camera are on the panoramic camera mast assembly (PMA).
A total of twenty cameras aid the twin rovers in their search for the past presence of water on Mars and provide the world with stunning images. The Mars Exploration Rover Mission provides the highest resolution pictures of Mars yet.

Advances in technology led to smaller, more lightweight cameras, which in turn allowed for nine cameras on each rover and one on each lander. The rover cameras, all designed at JPL, are the most advanced cameras to travel to another planet.

Enabling More Image Returns

A state of the art image compression system, also developed at JPL, has allowed more images to be returned. The ICER wavelet-based image compressor is able to take images that are 12 megabits and compress them down to one megabit, thus taking up far less space on the memory card. The compressor also divides each image into about 30 pieces, significantly reducing the chance of losing an entire image when it is sent back to Earth via the rover antennas and the Deep Space Network.

Despite the flash memory and downlink volume limitations, compression is enabling the team to get twelve times the amount of images than without compression!

Producing Range and Reachability Maps

A black and white image of the crackly surface of Mars is splashed with bright colors representing the areas that are within reach of the instruments on the rover's arm, or instrument deployment device.
Reachability map created by JPL's Multimission Image Processing Lab (MIPL) team.
Also new to this mission is the ability to produce a variety of mission-aiding maps. Valuable tools for the science team, these maps define range, reachability, slope and solar exposure. Stereo pictures allow the image processing team to determine the 3-D location of each pixel, giving them the exact location of features and rocks. Maps developed from these data allow the science team to know how far the rovers must travel to reach each object or if they are already in range and able to reach out and touch it with the instrument deployment device (the rover's arm).

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