SAND-E (Semi-Autonomous Navigation for Detrital Environments) is a partnership with Texas A&M University on a NASA-funded project to study Mars-like volcanic sand environments in Iceland, in advance of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission to the red planet. The study will help NASA prepare for scientific studies of areas on Mars that are geologically similar to the field sites in Iceland, and determine if new exploration strategies, including increased rover autonomy, would benefit future missions.

An advanced version of our ASAS technology, an automated evaluation of terrain ahead of a rover, will be used during the simulated Mars rover missions in Iceland in 2019 and 2020 to determine ways to increase the scientific return of NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 mission. The analogue missions will include a drone working in collaboration with the rover, to replicate scenarios anticipated for the Mars 2020 rover and helicopter.

SAND-E is comprised of an expert team, led by Dr. Ryan Ewing, Associate Professor in Texas A&M University’s Department of Geology and Geophysics. The team also includes researchers from NASA Johnson Space Center, Purdue University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Reykjavik University. The project is funded by NASA’s Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research (PSTAR) program.

Mission Control is also excited to lead education and outreach for the project, including providing our Mission Control Academy experiential learning program to students in Houston and Ottawa.

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Mission Control Academy – EPO

Part of the Mission Control Academy experience is letting our participants act out real roles in a planetary rover mission, including acting as our PAO (Public Affairs Officer) to do EPO: Education & Public Outreach!
Education & Public Outreach in a mission is incredibly important to help involve the public and encourage support and understanding of the exciting exploration work happening in space. EPO is a critical part of any science mission, keeping people and especially students engaged, and strengthening their understanding and connection to space missions.
Starting this Friday, Oct 18th, our new Mission Control Academy Twitter Account will be showcasing the experience of students at Waltrip High (Houston) & Woodroffe High (Ottawa) as they drive our Rover prototype all the way in Montreal at the CSA Mars Yard.

These 2 Mission Control Academies are delivered as part of our SANDE project.

Follow along on our social media accounts!


SAND-E & Mission Control Academy

Mission Control is excited to announce that this Fall we will be deploying Mission Control Academy, our immersive, technology-based education and outreach program for students at Waltrip High School in Houston, Texas, and Woodroffe High School in Ottawa, Ontario.
The program will take place over 2 weeks, during which time Mission Control scientists and engineers will deliver lessons to educate the students on planetary science, engineering and mission operations. The program will culminate on October 18th, 2019, when students in both Ottawa and Houston, will remotely operate a rover prototype deployed at the Canadian Space Agency Mars Analogue Terrain in Saint-Hubert, Canada, replicating the experience of executing a real mission to Mars. Media are welcome to attend the missions on October 18th either at the two schools.

Topics for the lecture/workshops include: ‘An introduction to the solar system and our galactic back yard’, ‘Why we explore space, and the careers available’, ‘Planetary science and the search for life’, ‘Rover systems and design’, and ‘Planning a Mars exploration mission’
Follow along with our social media channels and the hashtags #MissionControlAcademy and #SANDE!

2019 – SAND-E Press Coverage

We are very excited to share the story about our SAND-E Mission, which took place from July 8-August 5th in Iceland. Our team tested the prototype rover and a drone meant to showcase the potential capabilities of NASA’s Mars 2020 helicopter. Read about our exciting research and mission here!


SAND-E French Press Coverage

We are excited to share some of the coverage of our SAND-E mission in the French Media.
See our story covered in 20 minutes, FranceTV, and 24.


SAND-E story in Share America

We are excited to share some of the coverage of our exciting time in Iceland doing exciting research with our SAND-E team. Check out our story on the Share America website, highlighting our international collaboration!


SAND-E News in AFP (Video)


SAND-E Mission

Our team is wrapping up their time in Iceland – we a
re so excited about some of the amazing research the SAND-E team was able to do, along with testing our ASAS technology in the field.
SAND-E will allow our science teams to examine and determine causes of variability in the geochemistry, minerology and physical grain properties of fluvial and aeolian sediments. SAND-E scientists got to study the movement of sediments in these unique formations in Iceland, in hopes that it will better inform us of similar landscapes on Mars. We were able to conduct a series of surveys using a variety of operational protocols to test the most efficient approaches of gathering data. Some scenarios allowed the rover to autonomously drive and select scientific sites without human input, and in others the team measured the benefit of short drone flights to scout the area ahead, similar to NASA’s proposed Mars 2020 Mission.
Feel free to keep up with us on twitter to see what we’re up to as we prepare for next year’s field test in Iceland!



Our testing campaign in Iceland this summer has received some exciting coverage. We are thrilled that SAND-E is inspiring people and bringing light to some of the awesome research and tech being developed for NASA’s MARS 2020 mission. Here is a video about the mission on NBC!


SAND-E 2019 – Team Arrives in Iceland!

SAND-E (Semi-Autonomous Navigation for Detrital Environments) is a NASA-funded project to study Mars-like volcanic sand environments in Iceland, in advance of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission. The study will help NASA prepare for scientific studies of areas on Mars and determine if new exploration strategies, including increased rover autonomy, would benefit future missions. The test site is in the outflow of a glacier, where the SAND-E scientists are particularly interested in the changes in physical and chemical properties of the geological material as it is transported downstream by water (fluvial) and wind (Aeolian) processes.

Our teams have arrived in Iceland and have commenced the testing campaign. Please follow along our social media channels and the hashtag SANDE to keep up!



The Mission Control and SAND-E team have been busy at the Lafarge Canada pit in Navan running our Operational Readiness Test (ORT) for the last 2 days.
Our team, along with scientists from Texas A&M and Nasa Johnson Space Center, have been practicing operations with our rover and a drone… first in preparation for our analogue in Iceland in July, and hopefully eventually on Mars!

Some reasons we do an ORT:

– Discovering unknowns! We can plan everything out to the second, but we won’t know if we’ve missed an important detail until we try running the rover mission scenarios at ORT. The ORT will help us ask questions that we don’t think to ask when we’re planning things out on paper. Most of these questions will relate to how the human team members interpret data and interact with each other. The juiciest unknowns are always the human factors elements!

– ORTs also ensure that all of our systems and procedures are functioning and ready to go for the real deployment in Iceland!

– Testing allows us to compare how certain technologies, like ASAS and the drone, can affect the efficiency of science operations for a Mars rover mission (like Mars 2020).

– The ORT lets us practice a dry-run of our workflow and procedures before our primary mission. It allows us to identify problems in our mission operation design so that we can address them with software and procedural fixes. We also measure the time it takes for each step so that we can better plan and prepare for our mission.

The purpose of the ORT is not to test how well our technology performs but rather to test operations and interfaces, so our test site does not need to simulate our mission test site in terms of terrain features. We just need a big open playground for our robots, which we have here!
We and the SAND-E team are feeling great as we head towards our #Iceland mission in early July – stay tuned on our social media channels.