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Landing the UAV after the second successful survey

Landing the UAV after the second successful survey

Looking at the aerial image of the take-off and landing area you can see it is surrounded by large boulders. But even smaller rocks can damage the UAV during landing, and apart form the proximity of the truck the area was full of rocks of every size. While normally the autopilot does a pretty good job at landing this time a little direct control was needed just to get the final approach accurate and miss that rock in the middle.

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UAV images flight crew

UAV images flight crew

The interesting bits have been cropped, full images will be published next week.

We cropped away the interesting bits, full images will be published next week.

The UAV took this images from 400 feet height. This is only a part of the aerial image. You can see the road, the flight crew (Sev, Wayne and Aron) and our largest truck “The Beast”. This flight was surveying the opposite side of the road and you can notice a white rectangle, which is a GCP (Ground Control Point) marker, aligned north. 8 GCP markers were distributed at the edges of the site surveyed and geo-referenced using a highly accurate differential GPS. The accuracy of such a GPS is about 10 mm. With such an accurate control points the team can construct a DEM (Digital Elevation Map) which is an exact representation of the terrain both in longitude and latitude and height data as well. Additionally this accurate map will enable to RCC (Remote Control Centre) team to simulate the movements of the rover, and re-play traverses. Similar information would be available to a Mars rover from orbital data and from data of the descent module. Of course no flight crew would be visible on those images…

UAV takeoff!

UAV takeoff!

A smooth take-off at high altitude (2250 meters). The pilot is watching closely but this is a fully autonomous take-off. The rest of the flight went just as smoothly and we got top grade data. Orthophoto and Digital Elevation Map (DEM) production is in progress…

Preparing the UAV for flight over the Atacama

Preparing the UAV for flight over the Atacama

The white device on the track is a differential GPS

Before flight checks on the UAV for its first flight over the desert

To simulate data a Mars rover team would have from an orbiting satellite and the descent module we use a small UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). Made by Quest UAV in the UK these little planes have an excellent performance and can map a relatively large area each flight. We also found they work even in the strongest winds, although today was luckily almost still.