ESA Rover Makes Tracks in the Desert


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Last week, the European Space Agency (ESA) detailed a project to test its mission capabilities for the 2018 ExoMars project. ExoMars will be putting yet another rover on the surface of Mars, and the agency this week is testing prototypes of both the rover and some instruments to be used in the mission.

Today the ESA announced that the Sample Acquisition Field Experiment (SAFER) is close to proceeding, with three prototype scientific instruments already installed on the test rover, which researchers have nicknamed "Bridget." The rover has also made its first short jaunt across the desert. The test will not only be of the rover's capabilities, but the mission team's readiness to perform its functions as well.

Earlier this week a drone was flown over the test site in Chile's Atacama desert to simulate satellite imagery on Mars. Panoramic images of the location were also provided to researchers, who used them to plot a route for the rover. Once the instruments were installed on the rover, the mission team uploaded its planned route to the rover and sent it on its way.

“The next morning, once the instruments were installed, this route was uploaded to the rover,” said Michel van Winnendael, head of the SAFER project for the ESA. “It then began its first exploration, with some debugging and manual interventions needed along the way.

“Nevertheless, after a long working day that lasted until sunset, the data collected by the instruments were sent back to the control centre.”

In the coming days, the prototype instruments on the rover will be used to select a sampling site filled with loose soil. The rover will then be loaded with soil by hand for testing. Researchers are using the test to find glitches or other problems that would be impossible to fix once the rover is on Mars.

(Image courtesy ESA)