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61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All ...
61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All ...
61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All ...
61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All ...
61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All ...
61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All ...
61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All ...
61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All ...
61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All ...
61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All ...
61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All ...
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AN ORDINARY CAMERA IN AN EXTRAORDINARY LOCATION: OUTREACH WITH THE MARS WEBCAM

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The European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission was launched in 2003 and was Europe’s first mission to Mars. On-board was a small camera designed to provide ‘visual telemetry’ of the separation of the Beagle-2 lander. After achieving its goal it was shut down while the primary science mission of Mars Express got underway. In 2007 this camera was reactivated by the flight control team of Mars Express for the purpose of providing public education
and outreach – turning it into the ‘Mars Webcam’. Presentation given at the 61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ, 2010.

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AN ORDINARY CAMERA IN AN EXTRAORDINARY LOCATION: OUTREACH WITH THE MARS WEBCAM

  1. 1. 61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All rights reserved. IAC-10-E1.5.6 AN ORDINARY CAMERA IN AN EXTRAORDINARY LOCATION: OUTREACH WITH THE MARS WEBCAM T. Ormston VEGA, Darmstadt, Germany, thomas.ormston@vega.de M. Denis ESA, Darmstadt, Germany, michel.denis@esa.int D. Scuka EJR-Quartz, Darmstadt, Germany, daniel.scuka@esa.int The European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission was launched in 2003 and was Europe’s first mission to Mars. On-board was a small camera designed to provide ‘visual telemetry’ of the separation of the Beagle-2 lander. After achieving its goal it was shut down while the primary science mission of Mars Express got underway. In 2007 this camera was reactivated by the flight control team of Mars Express for the purpose of providing public education and outreach – turning it into the ‘Mars Webcam’. The camera is a small, 640x480 pixel colour CMOS camera with a wide-angle 30ºx40º field of view. This makes it very similar in almost every way to the average home PC webcam. The major difference is that this webcam is not in an average location but is instead in orbit around Mars. On a strict basis of non-interference with the primary science activities, the camera is turned on to provide beautiful and interesting wide-angle views of the planet below. A highly automated process ensures that the observations are scheduled on the spacecraft and then uploaded to the Internet as rapidly as possible. There is no intermediate stage, so that visitors to the Mars Webcam blog serve as 'citizen scientists'. Full raw datasets and processing instructions are provided along with a mechanism to allow visitors to comment on the blog. Members of the public are encouraged to use this either in a personal or educational context and work with the images. We then take their excellent work and showcase it back on the blog. We even apply techniques developed by them to improve the data and webcam experience for others. The accessibility and simplicity of the images also makes the data ideal for educational use, especially as educational projects can then be showcased on the site as inspiration for others. The oft-neglected target audience of space enthusiasts is also important as this allows them to participate as part of an interplanetary instrument team. This paper will cover the history of the project and the technical background behind using the camera and linking the results to an accessible blog format. It will also cover the outreach successes of the project, some of the contributions from the Mars Webcam community, opportunities to use and work with the Mars Webcam and plans for future uses of the camera. INTRODUCTION THE VISUAL MONITORING CAMERA The European Space Agency’s Mars Express The Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) unit is a mission was launched in 2003 and was Europe’s first standard visual telemetry device produced by OIP mission to Mars. On-board was the Visual Monitoring Sensor Systems of Belgium. The design, and variations Camera (VMC), a small camera designed to provide upon it, have flown on several ESA missions to date, ‘visual telemetry’ of the separation of the Beagle-2 including Ariane 502, Cluster-II, XMM-Newton and lander. This camera was reactivated for the purpose of Herschel-Planck. The main purpose of these cameras providing public education and outreach – turning it into was to monitor deployment events or other spacecraft the ‘Mars Webcam’. activities where visual feedback is possible. This “visual This paper will describe the generic VMC hardware telemetry” proved to be far more effective than fitting and capabilities, followed by an overview of the use of numerous traditional telemetry sensors (such as the VMC on Mars Express: its original purpose and its thermistors or contact probes) to a deployment reactivation as the Mars Webcam. The current use of the mechanism. Just a few frames from a camera can give camera as the Mars Webcam will then be described, information on the success or failure mode of the including the routine image processing and upload mechanism and in separation events even give flight concept and some highlights of special outreach dynamics information on separation trajectories. This activities performed with the VMC. comes at the price of added mass, complexity and cost compared to traditional sensors but, as will be IAC-10-E1.5.6 Page 1 of 11
  2. 2. 61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All rights reserved. described, the design of the unit has been tailored to allow the event to be captured, the camera was mounted minimize these additions. next to the separation mechanism of the lander, inclined towards the base of the lander to capture the separation event. Beagle-2 Ejection Fig. I: A complete VMC unit, of the type flown on Mars Express, with one Euro coin for size comparison. The IRIS-1 sensor/camera system-on-a-chip is fitted inside a housing with power support and data interface equipment to become VMC. The completed unit is completely self contained and has a mass of 430g, with Fig. II: VMC Image of Beagle-2. This image was taken a size of 65x60x108mm. This compact and light shortly after Beagle-2 ejection and shows the lander enclosure helps reduce the design impact of adding a (left) retreating from Mars Express. monitoring camera to the spacecraft. The first generation VMC used on Mars Express has a basic The purpose of the camera originally was to capture serial connection to the data bus with only a single the ejection event, although this use was limited slightly image buffer. Current versions of the camera support (in during the design of the separation operations. Due to a similar package) much more sophisticated features the criticality of the event (Mars Express could not be such as a multiple image buffer, SpaceWire data captured into Mars orbit with the lander attached) it was interface and CCSDS packet telemetry. decided to decouple the operations activities as much as While in no way comparable to the HRSC (High possible, meaning that the camera could not be switched Resolution Stereo Camera) instrument of Mars Express, on until several seconds after the ejection event. This the camera still produces impressive images for such a resulted in the capture of only 4 images of the retreating resource-light package. The IRIS-1 sensor is capable of Beagle-2 lander; images which would prove to be the producing 640x480 pixel images with 8 bits per pixel last images of the failed lander. The images nonetheless sampling depth. The camera produces grayscale images served their purpose, proving that the lander had by default but can be fitted (as with the Mars Express successfully separated and was on the expected unit) with a Bayer pattern filter to allow post-processing trajectory. During the investigation into the loss of the to interpolate colour information from the images. The Beagle-2 lander, much study was conducted on the sensor readout time is 100ms, but with the transfer of VMC images to assess whether any anomalies were the data buffer via serial link to the Mars Express mass visible. memory the minimum real interval between images is approximately 38 seconds. The sensor is fitted with an VMC Re-Commissioning objective that in the case of Mars Express gives sharp Following three years of no VMC operations, the images from a distance of 3m to infinity, with a very decision was taken to study the possibility of reviving wide 30x40 degree field of view. the VMC camera in a completely different role. With its wide field of view, and unique (for a ‘webcam’) MARS EXPRESS VMC HISTORY location around the planet Mars, it provided a very The VMC on Mars Express was originally added to attractive prospect to ESA public relations and of the spacecraft to monitor the ejection of the Beagle-2 interest even to the science community. However, as it lander. This was both for public relations purposes and had never been considered to revive the camera, it was also due to the aforementioned ability of visual as if starting from scratch with a new instrument – no telemetry to give a far more comprehensive picture of routine planning or data analysis tools existed and the such an event than conventional telemetry sensors. To ability of the camera to even image a planet was a IAC-10-E1.5.6 Page 2 of 11
  3. 3. 61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All rights reserved. complete unknown. Therefore a commissioning outreach project. Three undergraduate science students campaign was initiated at the end of 2006 to test the in a French Lycée had selected as a Personal Project the camera’s abilities and the planning and data analysis discussion of a question that leaves no young – or less processes that would be needed to successfully operate young – space fan indifferent: “Will humanity set foot it. on Mars during the 21st century?” The dissertation for this type of Project has to be supported by an Testing the Camera experiment of some kind, which was difficult to find More of the constraints that were discovered in this considering the ambition of their subject. The students phase are outlined in the next section. The actual involved had the idea of contacting the Mars Express approach to operating the camera was also defined team for support. We jointly decided that their during this period and the automation tools built around experiment would be the first to use VMC images. Their this concept. The camera is relatively basic and responsibility was to design the experiment by therefore does not have a great deal of parameters to test in the commissioning phase. In fact the two primary understanding and explaining in their report how this parameters are the number of images to be captured and picture would be taken with the Mars Express spacecraft the exposure duration. The first tests covered a wide and the VMC. The control team’s responsibility was to range of exposure times to try and empirically derive a deliver initial images image ‘upon request’, so to say, good generic set of timings. The exposure range of the for an educational purpose. If, already in 2007, camera runs from 0.4 milliseconds to 162.8 unknown young students from a small town in France milliseconds in 0.8 millisecond steps, then from 200 could receive an image of Mars just for their use, then it milliseconds to 95800 milliseconds in 400 millisecond could be reasonably argued that the conquest of Mars steps. A spread right across these ranges was initially had seriously started and, with some extrapolation, this programmed but it was then found that the planet was line of argument became the main part of their much brighter than expected and overexposed all but the dissertation, that humanity would step on Mars before shortest exposure times. A closer packed spread of year 2100. Quod erat demonstrandum. images was taken at the shortest exposure times, allowing characterization of the planet’s brightness at REY Sonia SOLEILHAVOUP Olivier different exposures. The test campaign also tested the SOLEILHAVOUP Isabelle classe de 1ère S 1 commanding and data transfer of the camera and allowed procedures to be re-tested and updated for TRAVAUX PERSONNELS ENCADRES routine operations. These tests were all a success and gave the green light to routine operations. L’HOMME MARCHERA-T-IL SUR MARS AU XXIème SIECLE ? Lycée Saint-Joseph Janvier 2007 Périgueux Fig. IV: The cover of the first outreach work performed with VMC - a French school project based on the Fig. III: The first ever image of Mars captured by the first images. VMC on Mars Express, on 26 February 2007. The first VMC picture was taken, but Mars was not Testing the Outreach there because of a sign error in angle of the camera Another avenue that was tested during the re- offset – not the fault of the students, but a valuable commissioning was the outreach possibility of the lesson learned for the continuation of their studies. The camera. To this effect, it was agreed that the VMC re- picture was taken again, this time with full success. The commissioning would culminate by supporting an three students presented the Project and the Mars picture IAC-10-E1.5.6 Page 3 of 11
  4. 4. 61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All rights reserved. resulting from their experiment, answering “yes” to directed at the centre of Mars. Unfortunately this is their self-chosen question…and received an outstanding incompatible with communications or science attitudes mark! and so a special pointing must be made for each observation, along with slews to and from that pointing, ROUTINE VMC OPERATIONS limiting the maximum duration of an observation to The VMC camera is operated as an opportunistic minimize impacting the routine spacecraft timeline. tool for public relations and outreach, as opposed to one Since the pointing is inertially fixed, the remaining of the science instruments on Mars Express. Since the degree-of-freedom of the spacecraft body can be used to initial commissioning in 2007, VMC has operated ensure power-optimised pointing of the solar arrays nearly continuously. VMC operations are always throughout the observation. scheduled under the guideline that it must not interfere with the primary science mission of the spacecraft, for 5. Spacecraft Data Bus example by violating spacecraft constraints, consuming The most limiting constraint on VMC operations is otherwise required planning resources, or hampering the that it cannot be used with any other instruments on work of the Flight Control Team. Mars Express. This is due to the very simple data interface of VMC that cannot be operated with other VMC Scheduling and Constraints instruments that have data interfaces designed to share VMC observations are added to Mars Express bandwidth in a store-and-forward manner (to best share activities whenever possible. This is governed by the the data bus). If VMC has data, it will send it regardless various constraints which must be satisfied to guarantee of any other waiting data from other instruments, zero impact to the ongoing science mission. blocking their transmission. The primary constraints to be satisfied, from lowest to highest impact on VMC operations, are: Once all of these constraints have been satisfied the remaining windows are used for VMC, giving a usual 1. Power range of 1 to 20 VMC observations in a month. These The power demand of VMC is very low, at observations are usually close to apocentre of the Mars approximately 3W average consumption. Given the Express orbit, after thruster firings. This is a highly considerably higher consumption of other instruments undesirable period for other instruments but has no and platform equipment, the power consumption of impact on VMC, giving the characteristic full-disc VMC is considered largely negligible, although it is still images of Mars. modeled for safety during the planning process. A Typical VMC Observation 2. Data Once a window has been identified the following The images produced by VMC are relatively stages of a VMC observation are largely automatic. The compact, but still use up 302 kbytes per image. If process has been highly automated by tools developed multiple images are captured during an observation this within the operations team to ensure that routine VMC can still build up to a non-negligible data volume. While operations do not load the engineering time of the team. there is usually enough space in the on-board mass The various stages of an observation are as follows: memory to accommodate this there is still a problem with scheduling it for dump to ground. 1. Initial Planning The slots identified are automatically converted into 3. Commanding command files, based on a standard VMC observation With finite uplink opportunities and a finite storage profile. This means as many images as fit in the space for commands on board the spacecraft there is a window, with a looping set of 2 to 4 exposure durations limitation on the number of commands that can be (to ensure at least one is appropriate). The exposure allocated to VMC. This also limits the number of settings may be shifted on a monthly basis if the images that can be captured in a given observation as previous month’s images were poorly exposed. If data is each image requires at least one command. In future a major constraint then the number of images in the automated ‘macro-commands’ on-board are being observation can also be limited at this stage. considered to reduce the impact of this constraint. 2. Execution & Downlink 4. Pointing Once the command file is submitted to the Mars Because VMC was designed to monitor Beagle-2 Express Mission Planning it is treated automatically and ejection, it is inclined 19 degrees from the normal view merged with all other spacecraft commanding. This direction of the other science instruments. Therefore a includes scheduling a window after the observation special attitude is required that places this boresight where data can be downlinked to ground while ensuring IAC-10-E1.5.6 Page 4 of 11
  5. 5. 61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All rights reserved. enough space is available for the primary science data downlink. 3. Data Retrieval & Publishing An automated task continually checks for new VMC data dumps. If one is detected then it retrieves the downlinked data and extracts images from it. It performs automated pre-processing on the images, developed from amateur contributions. Finally the images are packaged up with their raw data and a Celestia location file (showing where Mars Express was when the images were captured) and automatically posted to the Mars Webcam blog (http://www.esa.int/vmc) and to the Mars Webcam Twitter feed (http://www.twitter.com/esamarswebcam); Twitter is an extremely popular social networking platform. OUTREACH FROM THE MARS WEBCAM ‘Mars Webcam’ was the name given for outreach activities from VMC – presented as a type of citizen- science project in which a basic data service is provided by a space agency but the highlights come from an amateur community. The reason it is called a webcam is not just its technical capabilities (which are almost Fig. V: A screenshot of The Mars Webcam Blog, identical to a common webcam) but also the way it is showing posts of public submissions and an image used – as an opportunistic camera rather than an official set. science instrument. The target audience is the general public but In the case of VMC, the blog system is well suited to specifically catering for people with a particular interest allowing collaborative access to update the site as well in space and astronomy. This often-neglected ‘interested as allowing automated tools to update data and write amateur’ community largely comprises people who new articles. This latter point is critical to the service want to be more involved in space exploration. The provided by VMC – that there is no human ‘in-the-loop’ ‘Mars Webcam’ project allows them direct access to between the spacecraft and the blog, helping to reduce real data ‘live’ from Mars and even gives them the the resources needed to run the site. The tools chance to work with it and have their efforts published mentioned before that perform the processing are fully in a formal ESA web channel. automatic and will post an image set to the blog with no human interaction. Although the sets can be sporadic, ‘The Mars Webcam Blog’ – The Core Outreach this offers members of the public the chance to be the Component first people to see these particular images of Mars. The core of the outreach provided by VMC is the Mars Webcam Blog (http://www.esa.int/vmc), which is Observation Products maintained as part of ESA’s portfolio of web channels. After an observation has been completed and ESA provides a number of blogs, based on the Lifetype dumped to ground by the spacecraft, the software will open-source platform, to cover certain real-time events produce several products: and activities – such as dockings or fly-bys – that lend themselves to this style of web coverage. Blogs are 1. Pre-Processed Images widely used as social networking and community For each image in the observation the software will building tools, and the ESA blog system enables content create a pre-processed PNG image file. This pre- sharing, public commenting, discussion threads and processing involves extracting the image and the colour easy linking. data and then performing some basic systematic enhancement such as saturation enhancement and sharpening. The techniques for this pre-processing are one of the strongest examples of the feedback from VMC outreach – the original images were basic grayscale conversions of the raw files but the images IAC-10-E1.5.6 Page 5 of 11
  6. 6. 61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All rights reserved. now produced are of much better quality due to processing techniques suggested and written by the amateur community. 2. Pre-Processed Images After initial processing the raw binary data for each image is written to a file and all of these files packaged into a zip archive for those that wish to use the raw data. 3. Celestia File A Celestia file is produced automatically for every VMC observation. Celestia is a free space simulation that allows excellent visualisation of the Mars environment. It allows scripts to be written, such as that for VMC. For each observation a script is produced that places the observer in the simulation at the same position above Mars as Mars Express during the observation. This allows comparisons to be made between the images and the simulated (and labelled) features shown on Celestia. Online Products After the basic files are created from an observation Fig. VI: A typical blog article for a VMC image set. there are three notifications made online of new images Note the details of the observation, showing how being available: ‘new’ the images are. 1. Online Gallery 3. Twitter Notification All of the files produced are uploaded to a An experimental new feature is the ability of the gallery/image database section of the blog. This is software to automatically post a notification to Twitter sorted by month, allowing users to find any image, of a new observation. This further enhances the ability Celestia file or raw file archive from the history of to follow VMC activities using modern social VMC. networking and Web 2.0 tools. 2. Blog Post Public Submissions A post on the front page of the blog is automatically While the image sets are the central part of the blog made for each image set, including a preview of the from the ESA side, the key purpose is to reach out to observation images, links to the gallery and a short members of the public and involve them with the work summary of the characteristics of the observation of Mars exploration. The data provided above is meant (capture date, altitude, dump date). Image sets are to give members of the public the best possible access to normally posted to the blog within 24 hours of the data available and entice them to take the basic acquisition; in the past year, it has happened on several ‘raw’ data products to the next step and process or occasions that no higher-priority data were queued for interpret the data. download (and one-way light time was just a few It is explicitly stated on the website that the real minutes) and an image set was autopublished to the potential of VMC can only be realised by members of public web within 60 minutes of acquisition at Mars. the public getting involved and working with the data. The blog system creates an RSS feed of these posts There are no limits on the types of work that can be so any RSS client can be used to keep up-to-date with done and in the three years of VMC operations there has the imaging activities of VMC. been an extremely diverse range of submissions, including image processing scripts, detailed analysis of surface features, tutorials, artwork involving the images and even a poem. The contributors who do get involved in this way often produce further works and are very proud to have their work published on an ESA website. It is beneficial to both parties because the contributors are excited to have their work published and the Mars Webcam Blog IAC-10-E1.5.6 Page 6 of 11
  7. 7. 61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All rights reserved. is able to showcase a wide range of exciting and often individual blog and website owners. The video was very original pieces of work and interpretations of data republished by numerous top-tier media sites, including from Mars. Some highlights of the public submissions Wired magazine (USA), as well as numerous space fan to the blog are given in the following chapter. sites such as Raumfaharer.net (Germany) and The Planetary Society blog (USA). Special Projects It not only raised the profile of VMC and the Mars It is important that the VMC does not interfere with Webcam blog but also gave a never-before-seen view of the daily operations of the Mars Express mission Mars. As well as capturing the imagination, the aim of although in some cases there has been a strong enough the images was also to provide some real-world data for case to cause some impact on the mission for a special space education. The images show the real dynamics of project with VMC. Two such projects are presented an elliptical orbit, as well as the surface of another below. planet and a shot of its moon. It is hoped that the amateur community will realise and use these images in Full Orbit Movie an educational context to bring space education to life. On 27 May 2010 an entire orbit of Mars Express operations was reserved purely for VMC operations. Adopt-a-VMC Observation During this time the spacecraft constantly pointed VMC Another special project being investigated for VMC at the planet for a complete 7-hour orbit. VMC took is a scheme in which schools, clubs, universities or images as rapidly as possible (every 45 seconds) as the other organisations could be even further involved with spacecraft flew around its highly elliptical orbit around the camera activities. The idea is that an organisation Mars. could ‘adopt’ a VMC observation and make it their The result was an unprecedented set of 600 images own. Their name would be published along with the that showed the spacecraft flying in from apocentre over observation and they would be given access to the Mars the giant volcanoes of Mars, visibly picking up speed as Express flight control team by way of videoconferences it neared pericentre and passing over the terminator to before and after the observation. the dark side of the planet. Following a dark pericentre In return for this increased participation in the VMC the spacecraft exited over the North Pole of Mars and activities, the organisation would need to put forward a climbed back away to its apocentre, catching a transit of case for why they want to adopt the observation and the moon Phobos across the planet’s disc just before the also promise to provide some results of their ‘adoption’. end of animation (see http://bit.ly/mars_orbit). This could take the form of a report, artwork or other VMC submission that could subsequently be published on the blog. This extra offering follows the theme of the Mars Webcam, i.e. ESA provides increased access to an asset around Mars in exchange for exciting, innovative and new works from members of the public which can be showcased online. Fig. VII: An image of the Martian North Pole, captured Fig. VIII: Comparison between a VMC and a Hubble during the VMC full orbit movie. image made by students at the Humboldt Gymnasium as part of their project for the Adopt-a- The animation was extremely successful for public VMC trial scheme. relations: it generated 8000 page views in the main ESA website, 1000 page views in the VMC blog, several At present the project is in the early feasibility study thousand links, embeds and shares across YouTube, stage, having been tried with a school class and a school Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and other social networking astronomy club. In both cases the results returned were platforms (where it has been viewed tens of thousands excellent – comprehensive and of very high quality. of times) and thousands of links and mentions by However, there are some steps before this can become IAC-10-E1.5.6 Page 7 of 11
  8. 8. 61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All rights reserved. part of the standard VMC offering. This focuses on Image Highlights ensuring there is no undue impact on the availability of Although VMC is a modest camera it has still taken the Mars Express team – following the ‘no interference’ some amazing photographs, even before full processing. maxim of VMC. It needs to be checked that this can be The examples below capture a glimpse of some of the followed while still providing a high quality and exciting images taken by VMC during its history as the valuable offering to the participants. Mars Webcam. It is worth noting that many of these images are not RESULTS just interesting to the public and as an outreach tool, but The results of the Mars Webcam project to date are also as a scientific tool. In many cases the unique point- diverse, ranging from a growing image library that has of-view of VMC has lead to images which can provide been accessed hundreds of thousands of times, diverse important context information to the primary science public submissions of processed and analysed images users of Mars Express and the Mars science community and a growing community of regular contributors to in general. school projects, seminars and other training and tips generated by interested Mars fans. This section will give an overview of these results, which, as the project is still very active, will only serve as a snapshot of the status at the time of writing. Website results The website has seen steady traffic by public visitors since launch, peaking at times when new or interesting images have been published. There has also been a number of exciting special features submitted by members of the public and re-published on the blog. In the year ending 31 December 2009, the VMC Blog generated 139,442 page views (PV) and 36,493 unique visitors. Based on traffic in the first 8 months of 2010, the 2010 the full year totals should be over 167,000 and 38,000, respectively. Fig. IX: The Sun flares in the corner of this image of a While these results alone are very positive and crescent Mars, a sight never seen from Earth. substantially justify the resources dedicated to VMC Captured 10 April 2008. web efforts, there is also a significant multiplier effect seen in the number of reposts, shares, embeds and Web cross links of VMC material. Raw images sets as well as public submissions (34 in total to date including an impressive 16 so far in 2010) are regularly shared and promoted in several high-traffic sites such as UnMannedSpaceflight.com and The Planetary Society, as well as by numerous individuals and ESA web editors using Web 2.0 tools and platforms. An excellent example of this occurred in January 2010, when a USA-based contributor, Mike Malaska, noticed an image set that had just been acquired and posted (11 January 2010 10:52 UT); he immediately processed several beautiful images and submitted them to the VMC editors and posted them in his Flickr account - all within 24 hours of acquisition at Mars. Fig. X: The Tharsis Montes volcano chain on Mars with Links were widely spread using the VMC blog, twitter a large cloud trailing from Arsia Mons. Captured 2 and in Flickr, generating thousands of page views. July 2009. In summary, the use of the Web in general, but in particular the VMC blog and Web 2.0 tools, to publicize VMC images has been hugely successful IAC-10-E1.5.6 Page 8 of 11
  9. 9. 61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All rights reserved. Fig. XI: The giant valley of Valles Marineris cuts across the planet in this image from 19 July 2008. Fig. XIII: An early VMC submission from August 2008 by B. Dunford. This showcased the artistic potential of VMC images. Fig. XII: Looking down on the North Pole of Mars from 4125 km altitude on 8 August 2010. Public Submissions The submissions by the public are too numerous and varied to publish in this paper, but some highlights have been included below. The results from the public are the most impressive outcome of the Mars Webcam project and justify the project by getting members of the public integrated and involved with ESA’s exploration of Mars. Of special note are the contributions which were not just on one image but which have lead to improvement of the core processing of VMC, making the pre- processed images even clearer and more amazing to first-time visitors. These efforts are in turn reused by amateur contributors to further enhance their work and submissions. The following section highlights just a small set of contributions that could be easily replicated in this paper, the full archive is available on the Mars Webcam blog. Fig. XIV: An amazing poster by E. Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society. This shows 64 different views of Mars from VMC. IAC-10-E1.5.6 Page 9 of 11
  10. 10. 61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All rights reserved. also serve to provide outreach about space activities. Monitoring cameras such as VMC are becoming more common as the cost, mass and size of such systems decrease. In all cases it should also be considered that these cameras do not just serve their primary purpose but with minimal extra effort can also have successful dual roles as an outreach tools. Their nature as simple imaging devices, compared to professional science instruments, makes them easier to relate to devices on Earth (such as webcams) and in turn also makes it simpler for amateur contributors to work with the raw data. The provision of access to this data on an open site, using modern Web 2.0 and social networking tools as support, has proved an innovative and successful way of involving the public, particularly space enthusiasts across the world. This open access to the Mars Webcam project is one of the foundations of the project and something which makes it a very special offering. The community of interested amateurs, while relatively small, is an important one in the world of space outreach. The Mars Webcam project has proved that by involving this community we can not only Fig. XV: Public submission by M. Malaska in January enhance the outreach offering but also generate novel 2010. This image was captured at Mars, published to and exciting content, provided by these ‘exploration the blog, downloaded, processed and posted to participants’. It also proves that space exploration still Flickr within 24 hours. has an enormous capability to capture public interest and even the smallest webcam – our ordinary camera – can have an enormous impact when placed in the extraordinary location of space and made accessible to the general public. It is hoped that the work that has started can continue with even greater involvement between the general public and the Mars Webcam to make this a true example of the benefit both sides can gain from ‘citizen science’. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The whole VMC operations team at ESOC thanks the TEC-ED department at ESTEC and OIP Sensor Systems for their development of such a capable piece of hardware and their support in helping us to understand how best to operate it. We also thank all of the amateur contributors to the Fig. XVI: A detailed analysis of an image set from 9 Mars Webcam project since its launch – their October 2008. Submitted in 2010 by P. Wellman, it contributions have not only enhanced the website but shows a comprehensive look at the features visible, also consistently impressed us with their quality and especially haze shining in Valles Marineris. diversity. Special thanks to our amateur contributors go to These four are just a tiny selection, covering some of Gordan Ugarkovic for his vmc2rgb tool which is used the different themes that have appeared in public for every VMC image to bring colour to the images, his submissions to the blog. work on this has been invaluable. Also to Emily Lakdawalla for her tutorial on VMC image processing CONCLUSION which has helped not only amateur contributors but also The Mars Webcam project is an ongoing success, an our team in improving the quality of the pre-processed example of how operational tools and equipment can images. IAC-10-E1.5.6 Page 10 of 11
  11. 11. 61st International Astronautical Congress, Prague, CZ. Copyright ©2010 by the International Astronautical Federation. All rights reserved. Thanks also go to all of those who have supported special VMC projects (VMC whole orbit movie, Adopt a VMC Observation) which have often required activities far beyond the normal work of the Mars Webcam. Thanks too to all those who produced wonderful pieces of work in response to these projects. T. Ormston thanks the Mars Express Flight Control Team and the Mars Express mission management for their support in modifying the operations of the mission to include VMC as an active instrument. Finally, the VMC team thanks the ESA communications team for their ongoing support of the VMC project and helping make our camera a public relations and outreach success. IAC-10-E1.5.6 Page 11 of 11

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