ExoMars Rover Testing On Earth Ahead Of 2018 Mission
March 28, 2014

ExoMars Rover Testing On Earth Ahead Of 2018 Mission

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A giant sand pit that mimics the surface of Mars will be helping test out the ExoMars rover before its trip to the Red Planet in four years.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency collaborated on the ExoMars rover, which will be launched in 2018. The mission will help address questions about whether life ever existed on Mars by looking at its atmosphere and drilling into the planet’s surface.

ESA said on Thursday that its rover mission will be put to the test on the Airbus-built “Mars Yard.” This is an indoor course that resembles the martian surface, including rocky obstacles, red sand and elevated terrain.

“A facility like this enables us to develop sophisticated navigation systems to ‘teach’ Mars rovers how to drive autonomously across the Red Planet. This will be a fantastic resource for the ExoMars rover team and for future missions to come,” Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, said in a statement.

Not only will this facility help ESA prepare its Mars rover for the real-deal before launching, but the space agency will also have access to it after ExoMars has landed on the Red Planet. Engineers could use the Mars Yard when the rover lands in 2019 to recreate problems the rover may encounter on its mission.

Mars Yard contains 300 tons of specially selected sand that stretches across the 100- by 40-feet facility. The walls, doors and interior surfaces in the facility are all painted with a reddish-brown color to mimic the background color on Mars. Airbus also included a large mural of the Martian landscape in the background, which will help ESA test out ExoMars’ navigation cameras.

ExoMars will be Europe’s first Mars rover, capable of autonomously driving up to 230-feet per day without guidance. The mission will be demonstrating some key technologies like entry, descent, landing, drilling and roving.

“The ExoMars rover represents the best of British high-value manufacturing,” Vince Cable, the UK Secretary of State for Business, said in a statement. “The technologies developed as part of the program, such as autonomous navigation systems, new welding materials and techniques, will also have real impacts on other sectors, helping them stay on the cutting edge.”