A document describes an algorithm created to estimate the mass placed on a sample verification sensor (SVS) designed for lunar or planetary robotic sample return missions. A novel SVS measures the capacitance between a rigid bottom plate and an elastic top membrane in seven locations. As additional sample material (soil and/or small rocks) is placed on the top membrane, the deformation of the membrane increases the capacitance. The mass estimation algorithm addresses both the calibration of each SVS channel, and also addresses how to combine the capacitances read from each of the seven channels into a single mass estimate. The probabilistic approach combines the channels according to the variance observed during the training phase, and provides not only the mass estimate, but also a value for the certainty of the estimate.

SVS capacitance data is collected for known masses under a wide variety of possible loading scenarios, though in all cases, the distribution of sample within the canister is expected to be approximately uniform. A capacitance-vs-mass curve is fitted to this data, and is subsequently used to determine the mass estimate for the single channel’s capacitance reading during the measurement phase. This results in seven different mass estimates, one for each SVS channel. Moreover, the variance of the calibration data is used to place a Gaussian probability distribution function (pdf) around this mass estimate. To blend these seven estimates, the seven pdfs are combined into a single Gaussian distribution function, providing the final mean and variance of the estimate. This blending technique essentially takes the final estimate as an average of the estimates of the seven channels, weighted by the inverse of the channel’s variance.

This work was done by Michael Wolf of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-48143

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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