JPL’s Terrain-Relative Navigation Technology Set to Launch on Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover

NASA Press Release

The Technology

Terrain-Relative Navigation (TRN) technology from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) enables pin-point landing and large hazard avoidance for crewed and robotic lander vehicles. A camera captures images during vehicle descent, which are subsequently matched to orbital maps stored onboard the lander. Matching images to multiple known terrain features enables automated determination of the lander’s position relative to the terrain.

The Flight Testing

JPL’s TRN technology was matured in part through Flight Opportunities-supported flight testing of the Fuel Optimal and Accurate Landing System on Masten’s Xombie vehicle in 2014. The successful closed-loop flight tests increased the system’s technology readiness level (TRL) by demonstrating its capability to autonomously change course on descent and adopt a newly calculated path to reach the target landing site.

The Transition

Infused into Mars 2020, JPL’s technology will be aboard the Perseverance rover, scheduled to launch on the mission spacecraft in July 2020. Perseverance is scheduled to touch down in February 2021 in Jezero Crater—a 28-mile-wide expanse of steep cliffs and boulder fields. The rover will rely on JPL’s technology to handle this challenging landing site.

“Our 2014 flights with Masten were the capstone of our technology development effort and put us solidly at TRL 6. Flight Opportunities facilitating that closed-loop demo in a relevant environment on a vertical takeoff vertical landing vehicle was unprecedented at the time. It was an instrumental step in the technology being accepted for Mars 2020.”

— Andrew Johnson, Principal Robotics Systems Engineer, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory