Robert Bonitz


Robotic Arm Manager,
Jet Propulsion Laboratory


Robert Bonitz

Robert Bonitz graduated in 1969 from the University of Nebraska with a Bachelors degree in electrical engineering. After graduating, he headed east to work for Raytheon in the Boston area. At Raytheon he primarily did systems and circuit analyses on radar systems, but got his first exposure to space systems when doing analyses on the Apollo guidance computer and a receiver used in a scientific experiment to find water below the surface of the moon (none was found).

In 1976 he headed west for the blue skies of California where he worked for a number of industrial companies in Silicon Valley including TRW, Source 2 International, and CTIS. He then got bitten by the robotics bug and pursued graduate studies in control systems and robotics earning a Masters degree from Santa Clara University in 1990 and a PhD from the University of California, Davis, in 1996.

Robert Bonitz joined the Telerobotics Research and Applications Group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1996. During the Mars Polar Lander (MPL) mission, he developed the control algorithms and software for the Mars Volatiles and Climate Surveyor (MVACS) Robotic Arm and also served on the MVACS test and operations team. After the unsuccessful landing of MPL, he joined the soon-to-be-cancelled Mars Surveyor '01 Lander project that employed a slightly modified MVACS robotic arm.

On the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project, he developed the Instrument Deployment Device (IDD) control algorithms and software. The IDD is a 5 degree-of-freedom robotic arm used to position scientific instruments including the Mössbauer Spectrometer (MB), Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS), Microscopic Imager (MI) and Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT). Bonitz served on the operations team developing rover driving and IDD manipulation command sequences. The scientific data gathered by the in situ instrument suite has been invaluable with respect to the discovery of a significant water history at Meridiani Planum and the hint of water processes at work in Gusev Crater.

Robert Bonitz joined the Phoenix project in November, 2003, as the manager for the robotic arm which includes responsibility for delivering the arm, its electronics and software, and a bio-barrier used to enclose the sterilized arm to prevent microbial contamination of the Marian subsurface. The arm is similar to the MVACS and '01 robotic arms and will also inherit some of the features of the MER IDD. The arm will dig trenches in the Martain soil, acquire and deliver soil samples to the TEGA and MECA, and position the Robotic Arm Camera and TECP. He looks foward to a successful mission enhancing the scientific knowledge of Mars.

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