Dr. Raymond Francis

My current research is in new techniques for autonomous science, and the mission design and operations consequences of such increased autonomy capabilities.  Many of the autonomy applications call for automated interpretation of images of natural scenes, and I develop techniques to do that, both for geological and atmospheric applications. I often work closely with both the science and engineering teams on programs – whether in the development or operation stage.

I am Deputy Science Operations Team Chief for the Mars 2020 rover project, and work in several operations roles for both the Perseverance and Curiosity Mars rovers.  I’m a member of both the ChemCam and SuperCam instrument teams, and take part in planning both geological and atmospheric science observations on the two rover missions.  I’m also the lead system engineer for the AEGIS autonomous instrument targeting system, used for ChemCam on Curiosity.

  • PhD Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Western Ontario
  • MSc Physics (Space Science), Royal Military College of Canada
  • BASc Mechanical Engineering (CO-OP), University of Ottawa

Research Interests: 

Autonomous science for planetary exploration, Automated image interpretation, Spacecraft operations, Space mission design, Terrestrial analogue studies, Air navigation systems

Professional Experience: 
  • Visiting post-doctoral fellow, Machine Learning and Instrument Autonomy, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 2014-2016
  • Post-doctoral fellow, Planetary Science and Exploration, University of Western Ontario, 2014-2016
  • Visiting Student Researcher, Machine Learning, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 2013
  • Intern, Advanced Vision Systems, MDA Space Missions, 2011
  • Young Graduate Trainee, Science Payloads for ISS, European Space Agency, 2007-2008
  • Engineering student placement, ISS payload development, ROUTES AstroEngineering, 2005
  • Engineering student placement, Software testing, LMS International, 2004
  • Engineering student placement, Polymer manufacturing, General Electric, 2004
  • Engineering student placement, Foods manufacturing, Hershey Canada, 2003
  • Flight Instructor, Region Cadet Air Operations Central, Canadian Armed Forces, 2001-Present

Selected Awards: 
  • NASA JPL Voyager Award for “Outstanding work enabling access to the ROASTT 2020 field site and leading the field execution of the successful ROASTT activity”, 2020
  • NASA Mars 2020 Team Award for contributions to the ROASTT (Rover Operations for Science Team Training) program, 2019
  • NASA Ames Honor Award as a member of the FINESSE field research team, 2017
  • NASA JPL Voyager Award for “Extraordinary effort in enabling the successful use of the AEGIS intelligent targeting system on the MSL Mission”, 2017
  • NASA Mars Science Laboratory Team Award for contributions to AEGIS deployment to Mars, 2016
  • NASA Group Achievement Award for contributions to MSL Prime Mission science and operations, 2015
  • Selected as one of Western University’s Newsmakers of the Year, 2014
  • NASA Group Achievement Award for contributions to MSL science and operations, 2014
  • CIC Officer Award of Excellence for duties as a flight instructor, 2010

Selected Publications: 


  1. Gaines, D.; Doran, G.; Paton, M.; Rothrock, B.; Russino, J.; Mackey, R.; Anderson, R.; Francis, R.; Joswig, C.; Justice, H.; Kolcio, K.; Rabideau, G.; Schafer, S.; Sawoniewicz, J.; Vasavada, A.; Wong, V.; Yu, K.; Agha-mohammadi, A.: Self-reliant rovers for increased mission productivity, Journal of Field Robotics, Vol. 37, Iss. 7, p 1171-1196, Oct 2020, doi: 10.1002/rob.21979
  2. Francis, R.; Pilles, E.; Osinski, G. R.; McIsaac, K.; Gaines, D.; Kissi, J.: Utility and applications of rover science autonomy capabilities: Outcomes from a high-fidelity analogue mission simulation, Planetary and Space Science, vol 170, June 2019, p 52-60, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pss.2019.03.007
  3. Francis, R.; Estlin, T.; Doran, G.; Johnstone, S.; Gaines, D.; Verma, V.; Burl, M.; Frydenvang, J.; Montaño, S.; Wiens, R. C.; Schaffer, S.; Gasnault, O.; DeFlores, L.; Blaney, D.; Bornstein, B.: AEGIS autonomous targeting for ChemCam on Mars Science Laboratory: Deployment & results of initial science team use, Science Robotics, vol 2, iss 7, doi: 10.1126/scirobotics.aan4582

  4. Maurice, S.; Clegg, S. M.; Wiens, R. C.; Gasnault, O.; Rapin, W.; Forni, O.; Cousin, A.; Sautter, V.; Mangold, N.; Le Deit, L.; Nachon, M.; Anderson, R. B.; Lanza, N. L.; Fabre, C.; Payré, V.; Lasue, J.; Meslin, P.-Y.; Léveillé, R. J.; Barraclough, B. L.; Beck, P.; Bender, S. C.; Berger, G.; Bridges, J. C.; Bridges, N. T.; Dromart, G.; Dyar, M. D.; Francis, R.; Frydenvang, J.; Gondet, B.; Ehlmann, B. L.; Herkenhoff, K. E.; Johnson, J. R.; Langevin, Y.; Madsen, M. B.; Melikechi, N.; Lacour, J.-L.; Le Mouélic, S.; Lewin, E.; Newsom, H. E.; Ollila, A. M.; Pinet, P.; Schröder, S.; Sirven, J.-B.; Tokar, R. L.; Toplis, M. J.; d'Uston, C.; Vaniman, D. T.; Vasavada, A. R.: ChemCam activities and discoveries during the nominal mission of the Mars Science Laboratory in Gale Crater, Mars,  in Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, vol 31, iss 4, p 863-889, April 2016, doi: 10.1039/C5JA00417A

  5. Francis, R.; Estlin, T.; Gaines, D.; Bornstein, B.; Schaffer, S.; Verma, V.; Anderson, R.; Burl, M.; Chu, S.; Castaño, R.; Thompson, D.; Blaney, D.; de Flores, L.; Doran, G.; Nelson, T.; Wiens, R.: AEGIS autonomous targeting for the Curiosity rover’s ChemCam instrument, in 44th Applied Imagery Pattern Recognition workshop (AIPR 2015), Washington, D.C., 13-15 October 2015, doi: 10.1109/AIPR.2015.7444544
  6. Kloos, J.L.; Moores, J. E.; Lemmon, M. T.; Kass, D.; Francis, R.; de la Torre Juárez, M.; Zorzano, M.-P.; Martín-Torres, F. J.: The first Martian year of cloud activity from Mars Science Laboratory (sol 0 – 800),  in Advances in Space Research, vol 57, iss 5, p 1223-1240, March 2016 doi: 10.1016/j.asr.2015.12.040
  7. Moores, J. E.; Lemmon, M. T.; Rafkin, S. C.; Francis, R.; Pla-Garcia, J.; de la Torre Juárez, M.; Bean, K.; Haberle, R.; Newman, C.; Mischna, M.; Vasavada, A.; Rennó, N.; Bell, J.; Calef, F.; Cantor, B.; McConnochie, T. H.; Harri, A.-M.; Genzer, M.; Wong, M.; Smith, M. D.; Martín-Torres, F. J.; Zorzano, M.-P.; Kemppinen, O.; McCullough, E.: Atmospheric movies acquired at the Mars Science Laboratory landing site: Cloud morphology, frequency and significance to the Gale Crater water cycle and Phoenix mission,  in Advances in Space Research, vol 55, Iss. 9, p 2217-2238, 1 May 2015, doi:10.1016/j.asr.2015.02.007
  8. Moores, J. E.; Lemmon, M. T.; Kahanpää, H.; Rafkin, S. C.; Francis, R.; Pla-Garcia, J.; Bean, K.; Haberle, R.; Newman, C.; Mischna, M.; Vasavada, A.; de la Torre Juárez, M.; Rennó, N.; Bell, J.; Calef, F.; Cantor, B.; McConnochie, T. H.; Harri, A.-M.; Genzer, M.; Wong, M.; Smith, M. D.; Martín-Torres, F. J.; Zorzano, M.-P.; Kemppinen, O.; McCullough, E.: Observational evidence of a suppressed planetary boundary layer in northern Gale Crater, Mars as seen by the Navcam instrument onboard the Mars Science Laboratory rover,  in Icarus, vol 249, p 129-142, 15 March 2015, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2014.09.020
  9. Moore, C. A.; Moores, J. E.; Lemmon, M. T.; Rafkin, S. C. R.; Francis, R.; Pla-García, J.; Haberle, R.M.; Zorzano, M.-P.; Martín-Torres, F.J.; Burton, J.R. and the MSL Science Team: A full Martian year of line-of-sight extinction within Gale Crater, Mars as Acquired by the MSL NavCam through sol 900, in Icarus, vol 264, 15 January 2015, 102-108, doi 10.1016/j.icarus.2015.09.001
  10. Francis, R.; McIsaac, K.; Thompson, D.R.; and Osinski, G.R.: Autonomous mapping of outcrops using Multiclass Linear Discriminant Analysis, in 12th International Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation in Space (i-SAIRAS 2014), Montreal, Canada, 17-20 June 2014
  11. Bekker, D. L.; Thompson, D. R.; Abbey, W. J.; Cabrol, N. A.; Francis, R.; Manatt, K. S.; Ortega, K. F.; Wagstaff, K. L.: A Field Demonstration of an Instrument Performing Automatic Classification of Geologic Surfaces, in Astrobiology, vol 14, issue 6, 13 June 2014, doi:10.1089/ast.2014.1172
  12. Francis, R.; McIsaac, K.; Thompson, D.R.; and Osinski, G.R.: Autonomous Rock Outcrop Segmentation as a Tool for Science and Exploration Tasks in Surface Operations, in 13th International Conference on Space Operations (SpaceOps 2014), Pasadena, California, 5-9 May 2014
  13. Francis, R.; Moores, J.; McIsaac, K.; Choi, D.; Osinski, G.: Observations of wind direction by automated analysis of images from Mars and the MSL rover, in Acta Astronautica. Volume 94, Issue 2, February 2014, Pages 776-783, ISSN 0094-5765, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.actaastro.2013.09.011
  14. Mader, M.; Osinski, G.; Shankar, B.; Tornabene, L.; Pickersgill, A.; Marion, C.; Barfoot, T.; Beauchamp, M.; Francis, R.; Ghafoor, N.; McCullough, E.; Moores, J.; Preston, L. and the ILSR team: Baseline scientific requirements for a lunar robotic precursor mission: lessons learned from analogue missions at the Mistastin (Kamestastin) Lake impact structure, Canada, in 63rd International Astronautical Congress, Naples, Italy, 1-5 October 2012
  15. Stenning, B.; Osinski, G.; Barfoot, T.; Basic, G.; Beauchamp, M.; Daly, M.; Francis, R.; Gammell, J.; Ghafoor, N.; Jasiobedzki, P.; Lambert, A.; Leung, K.; Mader, M.; Marion, C.; McCullough, E.; McManus, C.; Moores, J.; Preston, L.: Planetary surface exploration using a network of reusable paths: a paradigm for parallel science investigations, in 11th International Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Automation in Space, Turin, Italy, 4-6 September 2012
  16. Francis, R.; Moores, J.; Osinski, G.: A mission control architecture for joint human and robotic lunar exploration missions, as tested in terrestrial analogue missions, in Global Space Exploration Conference, Washington, DC, 22-24 May 2012
  17. Moores, J.; Francis, R.; Mader, M.; Osinski, G.; Barfoot, T.; Barry, N.; Basic, G.; Battler, M.; Beauchamp, M.; Blain, S.; Bondy, M.; Capitan, R.; Chanou, A.; Clayton, J.; Cloutis, E.; Daly, M.; Dickinson, C.; Dong, H.; Flemming, R.; Furgale, P.; Gammel, J.; Ghafoor, N.; Hussein, M.; Grieve, R.; Henry, H.; Jasiobedzki, P.; Lambert, A.; Leung, K.; Marion, C.; McCullough, E.; McManus, C.; Neish, C.; Ng, H.; Ozaruk, A.; Pickersgill, A.; Preston, L.; Redman, D.; Sapers, H.; Shankar, B.; Singleton, A.; Souders, K.; Stenning, B.; Stooke, P.; Sylvester, P.: A mission control architecture for robotic lunar sample return as field tested in an analogue deployment to the Sudbury impact structure, Advances in Space Research, available online 16 May 2012, 10.1016/j.asr.2012.05.008
  18. Francis, R.; Vincent, R.; Noël J.; Tremblay, P.; Desjardins, D.; Cushley, A.; Wallace, M.: The Flying Laboratory for the Observation of ADS-B Transmissions, International Journal of Navigation and Observation, vol. 2011, article 973656, 2011.
  19. Francis, R.; Noël, J.; Vincent, R.: Orbital monitoring of Automatic Dependent Surveillance -- Broadcast (ADS-B) signals for improved air traffic surveillance in remote and oceanic airspace, in 62nd International Astronautical Congress, Cape Town, South Africa, 3-7 October 2011
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