DIRTCam in the desert: The Silver Lake field test of the Robotic Arm Camera

R. Aileen Yingst, Peter H. Smith, Mark T. Lemmon, Robert L. Marcialis, James W. Rice, Jon D. Weinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The Robotic Arm Camera (RAC) is a panchromatic imager included as part of the Mars Volatiles and Climate Surveyor (MVACS) science experiment on Mars Polar Lander and on the Mars 2001 lander. It is designed to take both panoramic and microscopic images in order to gather data on the morphology and mineralogy of surface materials. In order to demonstrate these capabilities, a field test was conducted at Silver Lake playa in the Mojave Desert. The test consisted of going to a remote site unknown to the science team and providing that team with a data set of RAC panoramic, anaglyph, and microscopic images similar to what would be available during an actual landing. With only this information the science team attempted a determination of the position and the geology of the field test site. Using panoramic and anaglyph images provided by RAC, in conjunction with overflight images simulating data from a descent camera, the landing site for the field test was determined within 50 m of the actual site as lying near both a playa and an alluvial fan. Images of samples from the surface and within the trench revealed grain morphology, texture, and mineralogy indicating a soil dominated by quartz and feldspar, interspersed with a minor mafic component. Grain-size distribution was bimodal, with small, rounded to subrounded grains dominant at lower depths and larger, more angular grains more plentiful near the surface. This mineralogy is confirmed by the geology of the site and the data provided by the descent images and mid-IR measurements. RAC has demonstrated its ability to image the local geology and identify the major mineralogic components of an unknown site. These abilities will be crucial in understanding both the macroscopic and the microscopic geology of future Mars landing sites. This test also has demonstrated the crucial link between RAC data and complementary data sets such as context images and compositional data that can support the mineralogic observations made by RAC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1999JE001190
Pages (from-to)7721-7732
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue numberE4
StatePublished - Apr 25 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'DIRTCam in the desert: The Silver Lake field test of the Robotic Arm Camera'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this