The three core technological elements of the Rover–Aerial Vehicle Exploration Network (RAVEN) include:
The RAVEN Claw is an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), like the Mars Helicopter, but equipped with a modular sample acquisition device and sensor payload. The RAVEN Claw is a prototype drone, developed by Honeybee Robotics, which will be used to determine the best instrument configurations and approaches to science operations for future Mars RAVENs.
The Rover (i.e., the Mars Exploration Science Rover (MESR)) is a fully autonomous robotic vehicle that is analogous to Mars 2020 (Perseverance) and the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity). The Rover was developed by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and will be reconfigured to communicate with the RAVEN Claw to test science operational scenarios within Mars analog terrains in Iceland using multi-agent robotic systems.
Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN)
Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) offers a sophisticated means of determining a robot's location using natural landmarks. Mars does not have a Global Positioning System (GPS), and so the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) developed TRN for the precise positioning of spacecraft during the Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL). RAVEN will adapt TRN for use with UAS-derived images and topographic data to more precisely locate both drones and rovers in GPS-denied environments, paving the way for the next generation of planetary exploration missions to Mars.
The Next Generation of Planetary Mission Desgins
RAVEN will build upon the next generation of planetary exploration missions that will utilize unmanned aerial systems (UAS). For example the Mars 2020 mission includes the Perseverance Rover and the Mars Helicopter technology demonstration. Once the ability for UAS to successfully fly on Mars has been demonstrated, it will open the frontier for new integrated mission architectures using a rover in combination with a drone. RAVEN will test new drone-based sampling technologies and refine operational workflows involving these two robotic systems working together. UAS will also soon fly on Saturn's moon Titan as part of the Dragonfly mission. The era of drone-based exploration of other planetary bodies is just beginning, and RAVEN will help to develop new methods of using this technology more effectively.