A Webcam @ Mars: VMC – a public outreach success for ESA


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An overview of the activities to date related to the VMC camera on on board ESA's Mars Express.

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  • - ‘visual telemetry’, past missions, technology… - Constraints, operations, planning and scheduling… - Odyssey (MOC), MRO (HiRise)…. - Webpage to Blog migration, user groups, workshops… Targeted pointings; full-orbit movie (Keplerian orbit)… Lessons learned: PUBLIC OUTREACH, & FUTURE MISSIONS
  • Vmc camera design as flown on XMM Last shot from Cluster VMC – Nile delta overflight XMM array deployment sequence IRIS-1 CMOS technology camera on a chip Basic first-generation 1990’s webcam An ordinary webcam in an extraordinary place
  • Not integrated into OBDH data-bus ie. no payload TM polling for VMC VMC installation did not need to consider constraints from other instruments, data storage, transfer etc. Foreseen only for use in total isolation on one occasion; minimal costs for design, testing etc. no redundancy Ops Concept: non-interference basis, severely constrained (power, data etc.); downlink lowest priority (AI ground-based tool for science data ‘dump’ planning), first out philosophy (winter sleep during 2009).
  • Used for investigation purposes after the loss of the Lander, December 2003 Top-left image shows under-side of B2 before deployment, with suspected attached ‘ice’ particles Lander appears very small as there was a delay of 40s between deployment and 1 st shots allowed
  • Hope to follow MISP type outreach through ‘adopt a VMC’ picture HiWish – easier to do for ‘spot imaging’ instruments in LMO SOWG now bi-annual for MEX High profile ‘special events’ follow Mars timeline… PI-owned cameras with large teams and well identified long-term science goals…
  • Detailed re-commissioning plan (re-start camera, re-calibrate for Mars as target…) No data-processing or relevant planning tools existed First image ‘failed’ due to different mechanical and AOCS axis definitions on MEX – bit of Mars we caught was fine! Mars is very bright (0.4 – 1ms exposures best). ISO 50 film equivalent. Gradual but continuous improvement in planning and procedures for VMC observations (exposures, pointings, windows etc.)
  • 1. VMC ‘first-light’ at Mars; camera works…. Lots still to do! 2. Mars full-disk showing Vallis Marineris and ice build-up in southern craters 3. Tharsis montes: the 4 volcanos
  • Automation of data-processing from raw packets to blog publication… Primary focus is to allow anyone to download and process the actual raw images however they wish. Moderated contributions of processed observations are then re-posted on the website. Appeals to amateur astronomers, space enthusiasts, image processing / astrophotography specialists Dynamics of the website identified as key to attracting and maintaining an audience hoped to add a script to the VMC toolkit to automatically generate the center point of the image on the Mars surface to allow a generated map showing the surface features visible in the image. Science use proven for comparative planetology, climate / weather event monitoring (clouds, dust-storms etc.)… possible other uses.
  • Images taken 2 July 2009 Detailed science paper published on vmc blog Fig 2. Left: MEX-VMC image rotated so that the Martian north pole is up. Cloud near Arsia Mons is outlined in red and indicated by a red arrow. Figure 4 caption: Estimation of cloud height by shadow length . Left: Determination of shadow vector (black arrow) from sun vector (yellow peg at bottom). Middle: Measurement of shadow length. Right: Graphic showing determination of height of cloud. Image credit: ESA/Mike Malaska Figure 5 caption: Estimation of cloud height by topographic features . Left: Color and contrast-enhanced MEX-VMC MEX-VMC Image 09-183_09.09.59_VMC_Img_No_3. Right: Google Mars image of corresponding region. Black arrow in both images indicates location where cloud touches Arsia Mons flank. This is at elevation 9 km in Google Mars image. Image credits: ESA/Google/Mike Malaska
  • Image submitted by Ted Stryk, Powell, TN, USA. Ted writes: "This image was generated based on file 08-212 11.01.00 VMC Img No 7_rgb. In addition, all (or at least the properly exposed portions) of 08-212 10.53.50 VMC Img No 1_rgb 08-212 10.54.45 VMC Img No 2_rgb 08-212 10.55.59 VMC Img No 3_rgb 08-212 10.58.31 VMC Img No 5_rgb 08-212 10.59.46 VMC Img No 6_rgb 08-212 11.02.16 VMC Img No 8_rgb 08-212 11.03.31 VMC Img No 9_rgb 08-212 11.04.47 VMC Img No 10_rgb 08-212 11.06.03 VMC Img No 11_rgb 08-212 11.07.17 VMC Img No 12_rgb 08-212 11.08.33 VMC Img No 13_rgb were fitted and stacked over it . Doing this provided a way to reduce noise without destroying detail, although some noise removal was still necessary. Deconvolution and sharpening was then applied, as well as processing to remove the remaining noise.“
  • First-time contributor Errol Bruce of Lakeside, California, has sent us this fantastic mosaic based on VMC observations of 12 January. It shows a beautiful view of a stripe across Mars as Mars Express flew away from the planet, pointing VMC and snapping pictures as it went. The images show this flight, starting at an altitude of 1800 km on the right of the image and hurtling away from the planet until the last picture (on the left of the image) was taken at an altitude of nearly 4500 km. To give you a feeling of speed, the time for this whole journey was only 30 minutes! In Errol's mosaic, you can see the first images on the top of the panorama, which cover a smaller area but have more surface detail , as the spacecraft was close to the planet. Then, as it ascends, you see the area of each image get larger and larger, with a corresponding drop in the resolution of the details on the surface. It's a really nice illustration of the journey made by Mars Express on every orbit, which lasts a little under 7 hours and takes the spacecraft from an altitude of over 10 000 km down to a closest approach of around 350 km altitude. First-time contributor Rick Hollar, from Bakersfield, California, USA, has sent us two beautiful interpretations of one of the images from the recent low-altitude VMC image sets - where Mars Express orbited down across the end of the Red Planet's great valley , Valles Marineris, and past the Tharsis Montes chain of volcanoes . To get such stunning detail out of the original VMC image, Rick used a technique called 'flat-fielding' - which maps the marks and irregularities on the camera itself and subtracts them from the digital image to output a 'cleaned' version ; this technique can be applied to improve all VMC images.
  • Images all taken close to apocenter; re-orientated to show same ‘phasing’ (illumination); adjusted for contrast and exposure…
  • Relatively common event. Possibly observed previously by VMC; first detected observation of Phobos shadow track Very long transit with good illumination Movie credits: Thomas Ormston, Vega, ESA-ESOC and E.Lakdawalla, Planetary Society
  • Pointings inserted automatically into the ‘Pointing & timeline Request’ file processed by ESOC flight dynamics into a trajectory Toolkit retrieves all VMC raw data from the archive, processes into complete images, uploads full image set for each observation onto the website (blog). ESA flight dynamics software developed to convert requested spot or limb-tracking pointings into PTR ‘blocks’ MAPPS science planning tools used to optimise target selection for illumination conditions, ground track etc. Tuning of image frequency / data-take to available downlink bandwidth and power conditions (e.g. eclipses, Mars-earth distance) Better use of limited resources (power, data, slews/pointings) Routinization of planning and operations for VMC (pointing, target, timings, exposure settings etc.) Example MAPPS v6.2 Limb Tracking aerial view of surface.
  • 1 shot/min for full Mars Express orbit (planet rotation, SMA, 5-6 Keplarian orbital elements, education outreach) New software available to allow PI/Planners to easily target specific sites on Mars for ‘low altitude’ obs. Opportunities – could open way to publicly requested targets, but heavily constrained by observation conditions (illumination, sun direction, s/c thermal/attitude constraints etc.) ‘ switch on’ of VMC (with auto-shot discarded) and single shot at pericenter transferred to mass-memory at next apocenter – typically single shot per 3-5 orbits. Explore ways to reduce hard instrument constraints eg. ‘stand-by’ mode for ASPERA with no TM or events? Keplerian movie proposed for 2010 Comms (PR) Plan for MEX Mission
  • Building trust with the user community; data reliability, advanced information (e.g. outages, data-loss) One step at a time operations development, careful introduction of new features etc. Data latency is very important to the ‘real time’ feeling of the instruments Flying with 7 other expensive, complex, demanding and productive science instruments; accept de-scoping as necessary Web-stats, fully mediated contributions but fast!; workshops for new users (published online) Observations can be cancelled for a number of reasons, some seasons (plans) are devoid of VMC Recognized that VMC is severely limited in its scientific value cf. instruments with 15 yr design history and €10Ms budget ‘last in, first out’ as regards planning and cancellation; non-interference basis with primary science payload Web content is fully-mediated but where possible of public contributions are processed within a day or 2
  • Nothing on an inter-planetary spacecraft should ever be ‘wasted’ or discarded Auxillary payloads such as the VMC webcam can usefully complement prime science-focused PO. Many uses of the webcam have only been revealed after contribution from the public and repeated use
  • A Webcam @ Mars: VMC – a public outreach success for ESA

    1. 1. A Webcam @ Mars: VMC – a public outreach success for esa Jonathan Schulster, VCS GmbH, TIZ, Darmstadt, D. Michel Denis, OPS/OPM, ESA-ESOC, Darmstadt Daniel Scuka, EJR-Quartz, Darmstadt, D. Thomas Ormston & Hannes Greibel, Vega GmbH, Europaplatz 5, Darmstadt, D.
    2. 2. Presentation Overview <ul><li>A (brief) history of the Visual Monitoring Camera (webcam) </li></ul><ul><li>Operating VMC Webcam on Mars Express </li></ul><ul><li>Public Outreach on other Inter-Planetary missions </li></ul><ul><li>Re-commissioning Process for the Webcam </li></ul><ul><li>Public Outreach with VMC on Mars Express </li></ul><ul><li>VMC Observations so far… </li></ul><ul><li>Developments in VMC Planning & Operations </li></ul><ul><li>Future for the VMC Webcam on Mars Express </li></ul><ul><li>Lessons Learned </li></ul>
    3. 3. <ul><li>Development of the Visual Telemetry System on Ariane 502 (OIP Sensor Systems, BE) </li></ul><ul><li>First flown on XMM-Newton </li></ul><ul><li>Used on Cluster in 2000 </li></ul><ul><li>To capture mechanism deployments: ‘visual telemetry’ </li></ul><ul><li>640 x 480 pixels, 8-bit sampling, Bayer filter for post-processed colour images </li></ul><ul><li>Design life weeks/months </li></ul>1. History of the VMC
    4. 4. 2. Operating VMC webcam on Mars Express <ul><li>No routine use foreseen </li></ul><ul><li>Evolving operational concept </li></ul><ul><li>Complex observation planning </li></ul><ul><li>Not in Science planning process </li></ul><ul><li>‘ lowest priority’ </li></ul><ul><li>Best-effort basis (no cost!) </li></ul><ul><li>Non-interference basis with Science instruments </li></ul>
    5. 5. 2a. Beagle-2 Deployment <ul><li>The original intended (and successful) use of the VMC, to capture the release (and spin-up) of the Beagle-2 lander, 19 December 2003 </li></ul>
    6. 6. 3. Public Outreach on Planetary Missions <ul><li>Mars Student Imaging Project (THEMIS, Odyssey – NASA, ASU) </li></ul><ul><li>HiWish: ‘Public pick pixels on Mars’ – HiRise on MRO, UoA-LPL/JPL </li></ul><ul><li>Cassini ‘scientist for a day’ program (target selection – SOWG) </li></ul><ul><li>Saturn Solar Opposition events 2008 ‘whole World looks up to the Sky’ </li></ul><ul><li>Main instruments on MEX not appropriate to public target identification? </li></ul>
    7. 7. 4. Re-commissioning VMC <ul><li>Started late 2006 “make new instrument from an old sensor” </li></ul><ul><li>First exposure tests … camera still works! </li></ul><ul><li>Process automation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Special pointing required (and new ones added) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Procedure refinement to minimise commanding </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Pointing timeline insertion & constraint-checking tools </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>VMC Toolkit development </li></ul></ul>
    8. 8. ‘1 st Light’ – a new beginning for VMC <ul><li>VMC Re-commissioned at Mars 26 - Feb-’07 </li></ul><ul><li>‘ first light’ </li></ul><ul><li>Vallis Marinaris, taken 8-Oct-’08 </li></ul><ul><li>4 volcanos, Tharsis ‘bulge’, 5-July-’08 </li></ul>
    9. 9. 5. Public Outreach with VMC on Mars Express <ul><li>Images down-linked from Mars Express as ‘lowest priority </li></ul><ul><ul><li>… but raw source images made available on website with minimum latency possible (VMC toolkit) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Blog format with calendar showing latest observations and contributions </li></ul>
    10. 11. Clouds on Arsia Mons Image credits: ESA/NASA/JPL/Malin Space Systems/Mike Malaska Estimation of cloud height by topographic features Estimation of cloud height by shadow length
    11. 12. Composite images: clouds and dust-storms <ul><li>1 st VMC ‘limb’ targeting observation (fixed inertial attitude rather than true tracking) </li></ul><ul><li>Images are post-processed composites of about 10 VMC ‘shots’ (H.Griebel, M.Malaska) </li></ul>
    12. 14. Latest examples: Sophisticated image processing <ul><li>NEXT SLIDES… </li></ul><ul><li>“ Flying over Mars: Mosaic by Errol Bruce” (below) – set of images from low-altitude observation on 12 Jan 2010, as MEX flew away from Mars </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Flat-fielding’ Rick Hollar, Vallis Marineris & Tharsis Montes . </li></ul><ul><li>Ted Stryk, Powell, TN, USA from 24-Mar-2009 (below) </li></ul>
    13. 16. 64 Views of Mars <ul><li>Emily Lakdawalla (Planetary Society) has produced a composite of 64 of the best VMC images </li></ul><ul><ul><li>She has also runs ‘web workshops’ as tutorials for the general public on how to process VMC images </li></ul></ul>
    14. 17. Phobos Shadow Transit across Mars
    15. 18. 6. VMC observations summary… <ul><li>Beagle-2 departure </li></ul><ul><li>1 st Image of Mars, 1 st low-altitude shots </li></ul><ul><li>Clouds from VMC </li></ul><ul><li>Low-altitude limb-tracking (Mars atmosphere) </li></ul><ul><li>‘ flat-fielding’ techniques </li></ul><ul><li>High-Dynamic Range (HDR) processing </li></ul><ul><li>64 views of Mars poster </li></ul><ul><li>Phobos shadow transit of Mars </li></ul>
    16. 19. 7. Current Developments in VMC Planning & Ops. <ul><li>Automation of VMC pointings </li></ul><ul><li>VMC Toolkit fully-automated </li></ul><ul><li>Target-pointing tools </li></ul><ul><li>MAPPS observation planning </li></ul><ul><li>Tuning to Mars Express ‘seasons’ </li></ul>
    17. 20. 8. The Future for VMC Webcam on Mars Express <ul><li>Kepler’s orbital elements … education movie (~200 shots) </li></ul><ul><li>Public-input to pericenter target selection (2011…) </li></ul><ul><li>Refine operation modes to avoid conflicts/constraints </li></ul><ul><li>Feedback/integrate into overall ESA Science Communications Plan </li></ul>
    18. 21. 8a. Public Outreach ‘Adopt a VMC observation’ <ul><li>Exploit webcam opportunity for education outreach </li></ul><ul><li>More direct involvement of Schools and Universities in ops. </li></ul><ul><li>Enhance planetary education – cooperative projects </li></ul><ul><li>Generate interest in ESA and VMC web content </li></ul><ul><li>Low/minimal operations cost (telecon, e-mail support, blog publication) </li></ul>
    19. 22. 9. Lessons Learned on Public Outreach <ul><li>Building Trust </li></ul><ul><li>Managing expectations </li></ul><ul><li>Data availability </li></ul><ul><ul><li>&quot;If I'm asleep and you're awake, you can see the pictures from the rover before I do, … it's really enabled people to share in this voyage of exploration.“ Steve Squyres, MER PI </li></ul></ul><ul><li>‘ Know your limits’ </li></ul><ul><li>Managing the website /Blog </li></ul>
    20. 23. 9a. Lessons learned – future missions <ul><li>Plan for long-term use of all resources on the spacecraft, however small! </li></ul><ul><li>Exploit ‘auxilliary payloads’ to augment public outreach </li></ul><ul><li>VMC has far wider uses than ever imagined (climate, science, etc.) </li></ul><ul><li>Impact on public awareness & support for robotic planetary exploration? </li></ul>