We're finally talking about space! This episode is dedicated to deconstructing the perseverance rover. At AVIAN, we're lucky enough to work with all sorts of folks that have very diverse backgrounds. Our guest this week, Jeff, has worked for NASA in the past and brings a huge amount of excitement and enthusiasm to this week's episode.
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Welcome to the Space Shuttle podcast. This is avians Official innovation podcast. Today I have Dan and Jeff with me. Of course. Dan is the vice president for strategic Innovation for avian. Not going to get that wrong anymore, and Jeff wants to give a little bit of background about what you do for the company and.
Your title sure, my name is Jeff Peters. I am working as a senior flight test engineer.
I'm currently embedded with Squadron VX1 working on the Operational Test program for the new Navy version of the V. 22 Osprey. Very cool. My background is I have a degree in aerospace engineering and I've worked on a couple of different test projects here at Pax River. Before that I worked 15 years in manned spaceflight. The vast majority of that at the Johnson Space Center with NASA cool.
Where'd you go to?
School when school at Miami University Oxford, OH.
Excellent, yeah, so we were talking a little bit before this that your background. Also aerospace and went to Michigan as we've mentioned in the podcast before.
The one point Jeff in your spiel, of course, you worked for NASA in the past, which is very exciting and that kind of goes right into the topic for today, which is, I'm titling, deconstructing the Perseverance Rover. So we're looking at the River looking at all the technology that's on there and seeing how we can spin that into cool new ways before we jump into the topic. Though, Dan, the Internet kind of loves you and it's it's kind of interesting everything then money.
All the posts that we make with you in it seem to get a lot of views, so that's funny. Yeah, very, very interesting. Shocking for an old guy to be popular on the Internet.
So let's let's now just jump into this topic. The purpose of the Perseverance Rover, Dan. Why don't we start with your idea with the camera and the parachute and.
Yeah, the whole the whole Genesis of this topic with the Rover with.
When when it was first landing and it was on TV, it struck me.
That somebody at NASA.
Was smart enough, wise enough and?
I'll say cool enough that they said hey, why don't we put a camera in the parachute so we can take a selfie of ourselves? Landing on Mars? So with the vast complexity of all that came into getting the perseverance from here to there and having it work with all the advanced technology somebody said, hey, let's put a camera in the parachute so we can watch ourselves do this.
And it just struck me as cool and weird and somebody with really forward thinking. Because holy cow that visual from the parachute of of the machine landing on Mars real time.
It was like a 92nd best commercial in the history of NASA for NASA. It was cool, so and so that started this whole thing and then the other technologies. And here we are, yeah.
Well, I mean, having been on a lot of these planning meetings and in the past so.
First, my bubble gum. No. First, my bubble.
I'm going to say is.
A while back I can promise you some engineer or asked the managers, let's put a camera on this. No, no, we can't do that. We don't have to wait. We don't have the space and they've just kept on persevere. Ingane, yes until until some race that all right we'll put a camera on there, right? We're going to put. I mean, this Rover has 30 some odd different kinds of cameras on it will put one on. This will get the selfie shot you've been asking for for 10 years. So I mean, I think this has been.
Out there, yeah, and now somebody, a manager, finally said yes, right?
It turns out the engineers were right all along that the coolness factor outweighs the well. It probably would have been three or four or £5, then and now. It's probably measured in ounces for a camera, right? So that certainly helps in power and space, and so it makes it a lot easier. But yeah, it was cool, you know. So then I got to thinking, wore it. Where else are we going to see?
Selfie cameras come into play, and one thing that came to my mind is in cars.
We have now almost all new cars have a backup camera. Why don't we have a camera like in the front license plate bracket? You know some people have a camera like a dash camera camera behind the rearview mirror. There will be a point in time where there's going to be a front facing camera in every car that downloads into some memory chip that erases every week or something so that there's always evidence of a traffic accident.
Or if you hit a deer you know hit and runs will be a thing of the past. I mean there will be.
It's a little 19.
84 ish, but there's gonna be cameras in cars by the year 2025. I'll predict. Right every car has a camera. Yeah, and there are.
I drive a Jeep Wrangler. There are some Jeep Wrangler models that come with what they call it trail camera so a lot of Jeep wranglers that you take on trails or lifted and you want to be able to see the stuff that's in front of you. That's what this trail cameras for so that you have the rear camera and the front facing camera. You can see both sides. It'll be ubiquitous. At some point I think I think you're right, it makes sense, and it makes sense, like you're saying to store that data for a week a month and then.
You can always go back if you are in an accident or something like that.
Well, I mean, I also the Rover with all the miniaturisation going on, especially with the helicopter. The ingenuity helicopter they're leveraging a lot of commercial off the shelf technology and in terms of, especially with from cell phones an that while they're small and light enough, the rub is. Are they going to be able to survive on Mars right in the transit? And that's where a lot. Instead of having to build and test stuff, they just grab.
Office staff off the shelf technology and then they just test it in. The environment is going to be and whether it passes muster or not is where it determines if it goes to Mars.
Or not, and so I was doing a little bit of reading and what's the other is not a it's not a Rover, it's it's. I think it's called like Ingenuity is that that's the helicopter OK. Oh OK, then there's something else I'm thinking of that is like testing seismic earthquakes on.
The services that the previous probe that was sent there.
It's not mobile. I forget name of it, right? It's not mobile, but they have this really long arm and with the sensor package that drills down, yeah, and so I think it's been on the surface for like 3. Maybe going on three years and it's encountered like something like 10,000 dust storms already. So I feel like they probably have a pretty good idea of what the weather is like, at least where that specific probe is on their surface, which is interesting and they probably you can probably tell me if I'm right or wrong, but they probably reproduced that environment on Earth so.
Yeah, well, I mean it's not just that they, I mean.
Having been there, I've seen some of these vacuum change chambers are enormous and what they can do is they can suck out all the air and then they can hit it with radiation and then they can.
Surprise me that they even tested the helicopter and they suck out all the air, so that's a vacuum, right? Then they put in the exact amount of how much they want to put in and see if it's even possible, right? Because they can throw radiation at it and see if it will survive and all that, but you don't really, really know until you're there.
Yeah, we're going on a slight tangent here, but I think it's OK, but the physics physics aspect of that comes into play and you guys are both aerospace engineer, so you probably talked about more than I can. But like for helicopter to have lift, there has to be error pressure underneath of the rotors. Is that the?
The answer is yes. Generally they are spinning faster than they would be spinning here on earth, and they're not going as high right that with those RPM's. Would you agree that's how they're?
Making it, well, absolutely. And I read some of the more dimensions. The rotors are four feet in diameter and the electronics boxes the size of a tissue box, so it's very light and the rotors are very big. But what's helping the in this particular case is Mars only has 1/3 the gravity of Earth.
Unfortunately, they only have marginally has 1% of the atmosphere, So what you need is have these rotors that are big enough and efficient enough to grab 1% of an atmosphere for it to even work in the 1st place. And I think that in itself is pretty amazing, right? Engineering, thought and design and then construction, yeah?
Yeah, so there are big and they're spinning fast and there's not much gravity and they're not lifting much, so.
Well, you could probably do the math. It's like a 33 to one ratio of gas or something close to that, and I'm sure I know there are businesses here that here as an on earth that are making these.
Making these these?
Big drones that are probably similar in size probably not similar in technology, but.
Just imagine being able to lift massive things now with a drone, and I think that is kind of a path that we might be going down by figuring out using 1% of atmosphere and how to do that. Yeah, there were certainly probably some efficiency gains in the rotor design, but I guess I didn't know and that's a great point Jeff. As if it's 1/3 the gravity regular gravity here is hard to overcome, yeah?
It's all. It's all about a weight balance.
What do you trade away for something else, yeah.
So let's talk about.
Visual I can show you guys a visual of the Rover here. Let's talk about the.
Oxygen mechanism that's on there. So Jeff, you want to.
Quit so it's kind of an old concept of.
Going back to the old term of terraforming, I mean wow, how do you take an atmosphere that's not hospitable to humans an making it hospitable and people have been talking about for years, but that's one of the I think the one of the other than the helicopter is one of the coolest things that are. It's not getting a lot of press, but how do you take carbon dioxide and work with it and turn it into oxygen so that it can be used not only for humans, but maybe rocket fuel or something else and?
It's I think it's exciting because it has never been done before. There's a lot of firsts on this particular over, and that's one of AM.
What movie was that with Arnold Schwarzenegger where they made he was like he was shoot? I can't remember it here on a planet and they had to be in a bubble, but then they made the atmosphere. That was total recall. Recall exactly, you're looking at the wrong guy.
For that movie.
But it's a lot of the same kind of stuff. I mean, it's just it's this little box that.
And I don't. I'm sure a lot of its proprietary, but can it be done? There's a lot of firsts with this particular Rovers. Can it be done or not you?
Know Jeff when they're planning on trying that experiment.
I read something in in the press release that it was maybe.
In the next couple weeks, OK?
Well, that would be cool if that works because.
I mean holy cow. Think of think of the applications of that on this planet. If we can turn CO2 into oxygen.
You know, appropriately applied, you potentially have.
You know a greenhouse gas transformation activity. You know when you buy your car, for example, you know they slap on the CO2 to O2 device and you are able to be neutral right now. Have a neutral carbon footprint of CO2 footprint as you sort of wander around. I don't know, so there's a lot of different applications that if this comes to be and they can make it work and then shrink a fight and cheap a fight like we're able to do with most things.
You have a real real possibility here.
Yeah, I mean Even so CO2 is not a scientist. CO2 is the.
Aftermath of our breathing right so?
Think about like we're grabbing and I assume there's a certain amount of CO2 in the air that we breathe too. Is that OK? Think about just like these. Now we have buildings that are sucking in air, basically pulling out the CO2 and pushing out just oxygen oxygen only. So now we're battling basically pollution at that point, right? Where? Like you're saying, we could also neutralize it by just slapping devices on cars or.
It can be like at nude kind of catalytic converter.
Exactly you can you can throw it into factory sensive, emitting that that there are many in oxygen, right?
Who says it has to be eliminate contained just two oxygen? It can be, maybe even any kind of gas you want. Maybe you can turn into helium and then you can go use the commercial applications to helium, right course, I'm sure that's probably a whole. That's a whole another element so.
Right, right, right? Well and see 02. Doxygen right is one of the main things that trees are the benefits of the trees. Alright? So if you're a paper company or a box company for every tree you chop down, you gotta buy three of these things and set him up in a.
Field somewhere I don't know. Yeah yeah, I think well let's hope it works. Yeah, right. Absolutely. And then we can patent that idea and avian is now in the CO2 to auction business. Yeah, count me in as a partial company owner with everybody else here and part of the ESOP. I'm in on making a $10 billion hey space shovel listeners. I want to say thank you first of all, for listening to this podcast, we have some really exciting ones coming up and in the works. Again, thank you for listening.
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So you said like you said, there was like 30 plus cameras on the the Rover itself.
There's subsurface radar. There's zoomable panoramic cameras. There's laser micro imagery. There's a weather station.
What other points do you guys want to?
Hit on either. I like you said again, there's a lot of different kinds of cameras. There's this Rover is primarily dedicated to search for life. Your current or traces from long ago, and that's the whole reason why they're in this particular spot on the planet. But they're they're taking core samples and hitting it with different kind of laser light and doing spectrometry on it and and they're using different cameras to detect trace elements. Another really cool thing is they are actually taking samples.
Packaging them up and dropping them in.
tools for a return sample with I think the next 10 years, so it's a wall will have the first samples of Martian soil back on Earth and this is the First Rover that's been able to get something ready to go. Package it and say OK, here it is. Come get it when you're ready.
That's interesting, so I wonder.
Are they and I'm sure somebody knows the answer? Are they planning for another Rover to come and get those, or are they planning for the first humans on Mars?
I think they're playing for another Rover to go do that. That is all that really has to do is land.
Grab the sample because it has to have a nascent stage with a whole new fuel system, right? And everything to come back? That's going to be a pretty big deal in of itself right now. Whether if it's one Rover to launch one little whole bunch of little bitty launchers, or if it's one big thing that collects all of them, I don't know it could be.
Either way, yeah. So maybe I mean that could be why they're testing the helicopter, right? So there.
Sending this Second Rover up there like you said, maybe it's these mini will not really many if there are four feet diameter. But helicopters that are going grabbing all the same all us coming back to the home base and then up they go.
Yeah, and or you can use a drone for a future Rover to go do Recon and say because right now all the Recon has done in Mars is done from orbit. So what you really have to do if you can get.
A scientific platform much closer to the surface and you can do aerial Recon and you can get a much better picture and maybe you can get smarter and where you say where you want to.
Land that's right. So I read a little something about for this one specifically.
They were much, much more targeted and much more accurate in where they landed, but I didn't read how they did that. Do you have any Jeff? Do you know how they?
Did it I? I read something about it is that they with all the.
Orbiters we've been sending to Mars lately. They've had a pretty good map on on what they did, and so I think what they did is doing the decent they. They downloaded this database into the Lander, and then it kind of did like active sensing of the landing site, and then if it detected boulders or cliffs it was it was given the autonomy to go ahead and adjust the landing site so where it's safer but still close by gotcha.
Alright, and do that actively.
So active active like thrust vectoring. Yes, OK, well that's kind of cool yeah.
Now I'm thinking and again everything goes back to that light. Our conversation. Will there be a point where we put a light our sensor? Is there a light our sensor on the current River probably is you think so where we're mapping getting 3D Maps of the surface of Mars? I bet they did that as they were coming in about a dollar. If we can find out I have a.
Dollar bet that there's a light on.
The Rover I probably owe you a dollar now.
There's also an X Ray spectrometer ultraviolet spectrometer.
That's probably all tie. Would you say Jeff Tide to the main mission of life or or traces of life? Yes.
Yeah, I think what makes another one in that. Probably you're not seeing there is that this Rovers nuclear powered. It's not solar interesting so all the previous ones. I think the exception of maybe one before it. They were all solar powered so they're all have these solar panels and if they get covered by dust and the values drain, that's it. And the solar panels only last for certain long.
Well, this one is nuclear power. It has a radioisotope decay device that generates heat and then that he is converting electricity. So as long as that plutonium decay happens inside, this device generates here you're going to have electricity. You don't have to worry about having solar for your.
Power that school is their projected life for that.
The last one is was an opportunity that one was landed over.
It's like 9 years ago I.
Think going strong.
It's yeah it has about 10-15 year life span out of it.
I was going to say I think they're expecting 20 to 30 years out of this, but they normally go longer so it could be up there for, well, 30 years. There'll be somebody there who can just take a picture of it right? Like walk up with their cell phone and take a picture of it.
That's that's neat. Yeah, and then I mean, I think this conversation has been great already, but let's wrap up with that movie reference we were talking about before we recorded the Martian movie, which you guys reminded me of. You were saying they got a lot of stuff, right?
Yeah, well, and that seems so. Matt Damon's trying to drive around and he's freezing right. He go grab this thing that makes it into a sauna. That's exactly what this thing is using. It's a version of that, and the Martian is probably my favorite.
Because I'm kind of like a space movie snob.
As I can tell you which ones are really good and accurate and which ones are grossly inaccurate and almost laughable.
About Star Wars. Never mind, that's a whole.
Messing with the Internet might not like you after that day.
Which ones I hate. But the ones that I love the Martians right up there. It has a lot, right? It has takes very few liberties.
You can really almost do a lot of these things that it is in that movie now. It just takes time and budget. Really get it to get it done. And the hardest part really is not being on Mars or not launching it into orbit. The hard part is the transit imagery in Mars getting there. That's the hard part, I think it's all solvable and there are lots of companies out there that can not only manufacture things but put in the brain power to figure all these questions out.
Yeah, so Jeff, do you think is there?
Is there a speed and acceleration?
Limit like could we could we shrink the time it takes to get there by going faster or is there a limit to that where we don't have the technology or the ability to go faster?
Well, the problem is, the faster you go.
The longer it takes you to get that fast, and more importantly, the longer it takes to slow down, right? Because you can't go from warp speed to nothing, right? Just like you can in the movies. You got it. You got to decelerate. You ever watched the movie The Expanse at all on? You know how they spend half the time decelerating, right? It's the same kind of thing. That's one of the things. While one of the things I love about the expenses, they get a lot of the human physical aspects right about it. But going back to the Martian.
You're accelerating the whole way there, but there's also a deceleration and you also have to wait. If when the planets are closer together, correct? So you can launch whenever you want, but how much? You can spend 8 months getting there, or you just spend a year.
And a half.
Getting there right right, which makes sense. Yeah, one of the things I read was about the time lag between the signals getting from the Rover to us is that it was 10 minutes for the signal to get here, but it took him 7 minutes to bring back your your.
Duration to decelerate from 12,000 miles to essentially zero 12,000 mph to 0. So it was, you know, kind of like cross your fingers and hope when those right 'cause it's all that finished by the time we're receiving right information? Yeah, it's.
That's what another thing about how this the Ingenuity helicopter works. It's all autonomous, right? They don't, they're not sitting there with the joystick flying right there. Saying OK whenever you meet all these specifications, just go for it and we this is what we want you to do.
You're going to you Rover an helicopter going to figure out how it's done on it on your own. We just we just want this end goal. You figured out how.
It now, when you're done, send us a signal.
How it went? Yeah, that's exactly what happened and we're kind of doing that a little bit now with some of the drone stuff that we're doing here. Not necessarily the you have a crew flying a drone, but a lot of the autonomous vehicles that some of them that were testing now in the military are are experimenting a little bit with that.
Yeah, yeah, I don't think it's.
It's a 7 minute delay, but maybe 7 second, maybe more than that well.
For here, right? Yeah? For here it's almost immediate. 'cause right after communication thinks they're good, yeah, but the helicopters communicating back to the Rover, which is going back to one of the relay satellites around Mars and then going back to Earth. So there's always a delay. So and that's why they always say the seven minutes of terror. Yeah, massive marketing, because all they can do is wait and the seven minutes of terror is already done by the time we get all that back. So it's either dead or success.
I mean the selfie that was sent could have been like this.
Smoking bowl of Twister metal, which.
Would have been bad.
And that's another thing. How did? How can you speed communications up? Maybe that's done by technology. You gotta have. You gotta figure out a system, an engineer system to figure out how to make it work. And then also you gotta build it. So that's holding everything that can be spun off, right there. Is speeding up communications. Do you do that? Do you do lidar communications? Do you do?
Wave right which are faster, yeah?
How do you develop a technology that is faster and more reliable than just good old fashioned radio waves, right?
I'd be interested how they how they test that. I mean, obviously there's a process, but how they test?
That much of a delay in communications on Earth, like.
What do they do to make it so that we're communicating in this building and then by the time it gets to the building next?
Door it takes 7 minutes so they can just delay it. Yeah, that's easy. Put in the holding.
Box yeah OK interesting. Well you guys obviously know a lot more about this than I do. I think this is a good place to wrap up. We're almost at 30 minutes Jeff, then thank you both for this very interesting conversation about the Mars Rover. I think we should probably do more in space because it's.
Endless topic, just like the endless space that it is so.
Again Dan Jeff. Thank you Jeff. Thanks for.
Joining us today. I appreciate it.
Thanks to invite, see everybody next time.