On the way to conquer the Red Planet

JOANNEUM RESEARCH DIGITAL becomes involved in Mars exploration creating 3D reconstructions for tactical ExoMars Rover operations planning.

Rover “Thinking”. Foto: DI Gerhard Paar
“Mars Terrain Simulator” (MTS) generating 3D Models. Foto: DI Arnold Bauer

ExoMars-2020 is a European-Russian project by the European Space Agency and the Roscomos State Corporation to study Mars, its surface, atmosphere and climate from orbit and on the planet’s surface. After disembarking the rover in early 2021 onto the Red Planet’s surface, the landing platform will study the composition and properties of Martian surface and atmosphere. The rover will search for compounds and substances that could testify the possible existence of life on Mars.


The first stage of the ExoMars project was launched in 2016 with the Trace Gas Orbiter TGO, aiming to gain a better understanding of methane and other atmosphere components that could be evidence for possible past or present biological or geological activity. ExoMars is a cornerstone of ESA’s exploration Programme. Using its miniaturised life-search laboratory and advanced robotic technology, the Rover mission component will explore the Red Planet in search of new evidence to answer questions that have long fascinated humanity. Support by ESA member states currently allows completing the flight models of the European elements and keeping on track for a July 2020 launch and landing on the Red Planet in early 2021 to search for signs of past and present life on Mars. The Rover will be controlled from Turin in Italy, where the Rover Operations Control Centre (ROCC, provided by ALTEC/Thales Alenia Space Italy) is located. 


To plan the Rover’s daily operations, in particular to avoid dangerous morphological formations (cliffs, rocks, dunes etc.) during its ride on our outer neighbor planet’s desert surface and to select the next scientifically interesting targets, a precise 3D model of its surrounding is needed. The Styrian association JOANNEUM RESEARCH (Institute DIGITAL with its Research Group for Machine Vision Applications –  MVA) has been selected by ALTEC to provide the software to generate such 3D models based on daily images from the Rover’s navigation and localization cameras (NavCam & LocCam) for the so-called “tactical” planning.  


In addition to processing of the Rover on-board images, JOANNEUM RESEARCH has also equipped the “Mars Terrain Simulator” (MTS) with processing software to generate 3D models of reproduction of the Martian landscape in the ROCC indoor test facility.  MTS will accommodate a replica of the ExoMars Rover to rehearse planned operations in a 1:1 Mars-analogue mock-up environment during the mission. Both activities have heritage and high synergies with MVA’s contribution to 3D vision processing of the ExoMars PanCam scientific camera system.





ExoMars PanCam

European Space Agency

Roscosmos State Corporation

Research Group Machine Vision Applications