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The overall objective of the Strategic Research Cluster (SRC) in Space Robotics Technologies is to deliver by 2023/2024 key technologies at a significant scale suitable for two major application domains: orbital and surface exploration. More specifically this 2016 SRC assumes as reference/target scenarios in-orbit servicing and planetary rover autonomous exploration.

This project, ADE (Autonomous DEcision Making in very long traverses) is targeting the tenth operational Grant (OG10) of the 2018 call, namely.

The challenge of OG10 is to demonstrate the techniques needed to realize a planetary rover system with very long traverse capabilities (kilometres per sol) by independently taking the decisions required to progress, reduce risks and seize opportunities of data collection. The rover will be required to travel independently from a starting point (e.g. a lander) towards and end point (say a cache of sample), perform independent opportunistic science on the way and return to the lander with the acquired soil sample. The outcome sought in OG10 is the demonstration of such capabilities in a terrestrial analogue of a planetary environment ”.

Following above statement,  ADE proposal is built around the following key aspects:

  • The specific objective of ADE is then to deliver to combine the building blocks from previous PERASPERA projects (OG1 to OG4) in order to test them in a rover planetary application in which all these capabilities will be put in place.
  • In order to achieve this challenging objective, the ADE team has been settled such to guarantee strong background both in robotics in general and operational autonomous space robotic missions, as well as state of the art expertise in each of the previous PERASPERA projects (from Og1-to Og4)

In line with the SRC goals, ADE shall fulfil, as minimum, the following main objectives:

Obj 1. Achieve autonomous long range navigation with high reliability. The rover system shall perform long term mapping and path planning and successive motion control over distances in the range of kilometres per sol. Similarly it shall re-plan in case unpredicted events or conflicts occur. Those could include both unpredicted potentially interesting scientific observations and/or rover system resources limitations/degradation. Additional key aspects for this long traverse capability will be the locomotion system (mostly but not only, in terms of speed) and the energy availability (batteries).

Obj 2. Guarantee consistent data detection while avoiding un-detection of interesting data along mission path. To maximize the scientific return along it nominal long traverse journey. The detection of interesting / unknown patterns within images has still a low maturity level. Goal of OG10 is to work towards the capability of detecting potentially interesting environmental features (opportunistic science) within collected images and successive analysis of the same to maximize the collection of planetary data. This feature impacts the on-board capabilities (memory limitation/ processing capabilities and data transmission) in terms of data collection, handling and analysis.

Obj 3. Autonomous decision making capabilities (E4) in presence of conflicts. Capability to autonomously and safely modify the nominal plan (re-planning mission objectives) along the long traverse path in case of identification of a scientifically interesting feature/s or environmental hazards (slopes, craters) in compliance with system level constraints (power availability /generation and storage), on-board resources (mass memory, uplink budget) and temporal restrictions (sol duration, rover lifetime).

Obj 4. Mandatory re-use of Call 1 Building Blocks. ADE shall build over existing Building Blocks (SRC Call 1 OGs (all except OG5 not required for ADE [RD.1]) and on complementary European robotic technologies. OG10 shall also maintain OG2 along the entire SRC 2018 project duration.

Obj 5. Reach a higher TRL level for its future use in space, there must be a clear path for reaching higher levels of TRL (5/6 min) at component and system level. The ADE system and the ADAM SW shall be compatible with future space processors. A clear path for reaching a higher level of TRL shall be defined.

Obj 6. Safety: The system must demonstrate that it is capable of keeping the rover in safe conditions in the presence of failures or any unexpected events.

Obj 7. Achieve a flexible-purpose surface robotic system design. Call 2 robotics applications shall address not only the requirements and need of space exploration and exploitation, but also of terrestrial applications, such as deep mining, nuclear, agricultural, automotive or underwater.

Obj 8. Spin-off / ground exploitation and commercialization. Spin-of/spill-over and transference of technology from space to ground applications shall considered within ADE

Obj 9. Dissemination/Communication and Exploitation. In order to maximize the impact of OG10 at all levels, a Dissemination/Communication Plan and an Exploitation Plan shall be in place from the very beginning and actions shall start to be executed also from the very beginning. Dynamic evolving plans (with continuous feedback of achieved success) shall be considered.

Obj 10. Collaboration/harmonization with other Call 2 OGs consortiums. There is the realistic possibility to have some common elements among all Call 2 new OGs (or, at least, between some of them). Cross-OG communication/development sharing may boost all of them and allow saving some budget to be re-allocated to extended objectives..