Mission duration concepts for future human exploration of Mars include multi-month to multi-year missions. However, the amount of time dedicated to science during long-duration missions is not well-defined in the evolving human exploration architecture. Furthermore, it is not clear how much mission time that is dedicated to science will be required to achieve proposed planetary science research goals. Thus, studies of science timelines related to human mission concepts are valuable since they help inform the developing human exploration architecture to enable science, rather than achieving science within a pre-defined architecture that does not address science requirements.
The Remote, In Situ, and Synchrotron Studies for Science and Exploration (RIS4E) team, a member of the Solar System Exploration and Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) program, is conducting geologic traverses in field analog settings while using commercially available analytical instruments. The goal is to assess the impact of portable, rapid instrumentation on extravehicular activity (EVA) timelines. These field studies involve human EVAs to conduct surface science. However, some proposed human destinations could be explored via low-latency telerobotics (LLT) from an orbiting base, such as Mars from Phobos, the Moon from cislunar space, or a microgravity target from a nearby spacecraft. Such an approach would greatly reduce the round-trip communication times between distant destinations, such as the Mars system and Earth, and thereby improve efficiency of operations. Additionally, such a mission concept could enable human exploration on or near a crewed base, such as on the surface of Phobos.
LLT operations concepts and timelines for several representative sequences for Mars surface science from a nearby location like Phobos have been developed for the Human Exploration Architecture Team (HAT). A combination of the RIS4E and HAT studies provides more robust timeline estimates related to surface LLT science operations at Mars potentially combined with human EVAs on the surface of Phobos. In this concept, LLT is utilized to perform relatively complex telerobotic science tasks on the Mars surface, including core sampling and handling, and detailed analysis of selected samples. Having humans in the loop for near real-time science should not only make surface science operations more efficient, but should also enable more critical selection (high-grading) of samples for detailed analysis, thereby maximizing science return. The details of such operations are being analyzed including science input from a broader community. It is hoped that feedback for a notional traverse being developed can be obtained at the conference.
A summary of these LLT science sequences and timelines that are being developed will be presented, along with associated assumptions, operational considerations, and challenges. A notional list of candidate science rover instruments will also be summarized. Implications and lessons learned will be presented to help identify best practices for inclusion of LLT operations during human exploration of the Solar System. These studies are important to prepare for and maximize science return, particularly if the exploration architecture ultimately includes LLT activities.