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TREX Team Starts Field Work

eldar with TREX robot zoe

Field work team leader Eldar Noe Dobrea (PSI) inspects the rover.

Credit: Sanlyn Buxner.


After a one-and-one-half-year delay and years of planning and preparation, the TREX team – led by PSI Senior Scientist Amanda Hendrix – has come together in Flagstaff to begin field testing multiple scientific instruments, including cameras, as the project contributes knowledge to prepare for future human exploration of the Moon and other places in the Solar System. The instruments, mounted atop the autonomous rover Zoë, built and managed by TREX partners from Carnegie Mellon (led by David Wettergreen), are measuring rocks and soils at different wavelengths of light to learn about their composition. 

Field work is taking place from Nov. 1 through Nov. 13 at two geologically interesting sites in Northern Arizona, one 45 minutes north of Flagstaff and the other outside Tuba City, Arizona. 

The work is being done by the 14 person TREX field team made up of PSI scientists Eldar Noe Dobrea, Shawn Wright, Neil Pearson, George Kramer and Sanlyn Buxner, and collaborators from Carnegie Mellon, University of Colorado, Northern Arizona University, the Jet Propulsion Lab and Arizona State University along with the seven person TREX science team made up of PSI scientists Tom Prettyman, Roger Clark, Faith Vilas, PSI alumni scientists Maria Banks from Goddard Space Flight Center and Melissa Lane from Fibernetics, Inc. and additional collaborators from Goddard Space Flight Center and Northern Arizona University. 

Each day the science team send commands to the rover team who moves the rover to the sites and collects data and sends it back to the science team for analysis. The team is enacting multiple scenarios at each site to test not only the scientific instruments but also software for the robot to autonomously traverse different paths for data collection and is utilizing an “astronaut” to assist in data collection. The data collected during the different robot traverses will be used to build geologic maps of the regions and will test the efficiency of the different scenarios and data collection techniques. 

 “This environment at this site is beautiful. It looks a little like Mars – but with vegetation and cows. The rover, software and instruments are performing well and it’s very exciting to be out here simulating different mission scenarios and building geologic maps,” said TREX team leader Hendrix after one week of field work was completed. 

TREX is a multi-institutional collaboration led out of the Planetary Science Institute. TREX is supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration through Cooperative Agreement NNH16ZDA001N.

neil at TREX field work Flagstaff 

Neil Pearson (PSI) and Madison Borrelli (ASU) load a rock sample into the Xray Diffraction Instrument (XRD) for analysis.

Credit: Lisa K. Blatt.

Nov. 7, 2021
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