Mars 2020 COCPIT

Mission planning for NASA’s latest Mars rover

Launched in July 2020, Mars 2020 (officially named Perseverance) will be NASA’s latest rover to explore Earth’s nearest neighboring planet. With a mission to look for signs of ancient life on the red planet, Perseverance improves on the hardware platform originally developed for Curiosity, NASA’s current Mars rover, whose planning software was also developed through a collaboration between NASA Ames Research Center and JPL nearly a decade ago. Just as the hardware for Perseverance has been upgraded, so too has the software. COCPIT, the software that will handle Perseverance rover planning, heavily leverages the infrastructure of our team’s current planning tool, Playbook.

Role: Design Integrator

Contribution: Design Strategy, Systems Integration, Interaction Design, QA Testing

Team/Timeframe: NASA/Current


NASA’s planetary rover operations are a complex domain with a well-documented history that spans from its earliest days of the Sojourner/Pathfinder program to the current Curiosity program. Many of the individuals who worked on these programs are still working at NASA to this day and act as a treasure trove of domain information. These subject matter experts are critical in providing insights that guide the development of COCPIT. In addition, many members of the COCPIT development team are actively involved with Curiosity’s day-to-day operations, so many of COCPIT's users have a hand in building it. This grants us tremendous access into current rover operations, as well as insight into expected future operations as well.


Because COCPIT is a branch of Playbook, our team’s core planning software, many of Playbook’s feature sets serve as platforms for COCPIT to build new capabilities, both from a design and technical perspective. During the early phases of the project, our team was actively involved with brainstorming and designing prototypes of what would eventually become foundational features for the COCPIT tool. Today, the NASA Ames design team serves as design integrators, ensuring that features developed for either tool can be generalized and scaled for use across both.


Because of the massive scale of the $2B+ Mars 2020 mission, testing is a continuous and major part of mission priorities. Tests such as engineering readiness tests (ERT's) and operational readiness tests (ORT's) qualify software tools in functional and operational settings. Among these tests are full-scale simulations, called rover operations activities for science team training (ROASTT). These are real-time simulations of a week’s worth of rover planning operations. These design focused simulations involve teams of hundreds of scientists and engineers from around the world testing mission tools in their current state, with the objective of identifying breakdowns in the software and planning processes. Tests like these help keep the COCPIT development team informed of larger system inefficiencies that are less likely to appear during day-to-day user feedback sessions.


COCPIT has been in development for over 3 years, and has consistently grown in capability and usability at all major mission milestones. Perseverance is scheduled to land on Mars in February 2021. The first operational release of COCPIT is expected to be deployed well before that time, allowing planetary scientists, rover planners, and instrument engineers to begin planning the rover’s first activities once it reaches the planet's surface.