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"Landing on Mars is one of the most difficult feats to achieve in the field of space exploration".

Alumni Tecnun Paul Brugarolas is part of the Perseverance team, NASA's mission statement exploring the red planet.

03 | 03 | 2021

Paul Brugarolas is a member of the staff technical staff of the Guidance and Control Section of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is currently the lead engineer for the GNC (Guidance, Navigation and Control) system, informally known as the autopilot, which successfully landed the Perseverance rover on Mars.

Brugarolas will participate in a webinar organized by Alumni Tecnunto explain the details of this success on Tuesday, March 9 at 7 pm. Those interested can register at the following link.

What has the recent successful landing on Mars meant to you?

A great success and a great relief. Great success because landing on another planet, in this case Mars, is one of the most difficult feats to achieve in the field of space exploration. It requires a very complex sequence of activities in which everything has to go right.

No margin for error?

No. In particular, there isn't for the autopilot that has to know how to fly the spacecraft in the uncertain atmosphere of Mars and then execute the skycrane landing. So the fact that it went well is a great relief, because after having invested 8 years in this project and being the technical manager of the autopilot you want everything to go well.

What good will this landing do?

After landing, the science phase of the mission statement will begin, which will attempt to answer the question of whether there has been life on Mars. The mission statement will study the Jezero crater, which was an ancient lake, and obtain rock samples to be returned to Earth at a future mission statement .

What has been your work in this achievement?

I have been the chief engineer of the GNC (Guidance, Navigation and Control) system, informally known as the autopilot. As such I have technically led the team that has designed, developed, verified, and operated the GNC system. The autopilot is very similar to the one that landed Curiosity in 2012. However, we have improved it in two main areas.

What are these areas?

First, we have modified the parachute opening algorithm to reduce the size of the landing ellipse by almost half. And the second, we have added a terrain navigation system, which includes a camera and image processing algorithms to locate the spacecraft with respect to the surface, and a landing zone selection system that searches for the best landing zone in a close environment of about 700 meters radius, using a map of safe landing zones. These two modifications have been key to the spacecraft's ability to land in the Jezero crater.

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