Drilling On Mars with the ExoMars Rover
Kyle Maxey posted on October 10, 2013 |

The ESA and Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, are undergoing field tests for a collaborative Martian exploration mission. This test brings them one step closer to a 2018 launch goal that will send a drilling rig to Mars.

Name ExoMars (short for Exobiology on Mars), the European rover is a bit smaller than NASA’s Curiosity rover. What it lacks in size it makes up for in utility. ExoMars is armed with a large drill that can extract samples 2 meters deep into the Martian soil. This will put ExoMars on the cutting edge of exobiology research.

Added to this drill is the capability of advanced autonomous driving and navigation. This allows ExoMars to travel up to 100 meters without having to call home every time it needs to make a move. By untethering the ExoMars from mission control, the ESA is hoping to squeeze a lot more science out of its rover.

But before ExoMars gets loaded onto a rocket, ESA scientists are busy conducting tests to make sure the rover will work when it lands on terra-incognita.

In the Atacama Desert a prototype of the ExoMars named Bridget is undergoing field tests. Atacama, with its arid, dusty climate is the closest analogue to Mars on Earth. In a project called SAFER (Sample Field Acquisition Experiment with a Rover) researchers are testing Bridget’s autonomous navigation systems.

According to the ESA “The aim is to build up experience in operating rovers on a planet, which requires a very different way of working from a satellite mission.  For added pressure on the rover’s remote overseers each day of the five-day test will be treated as equivalent to two Mars days, or ‘sols.’  For each sol they will first downlink data then prepare a set of commands for the next sol that the rover will then carry out on its own.”

In addition to her navigation trials Bridget will also be tasked with flexing her science muscles as she is explores pre-selected “science-targets.”  If Bridget successfully completes her SAFER trials she will have taken a monumental step towards sending ExoMars to Martian soil.

There are several rovers that set to explore Mars, with future missions now in the planning and design phase.  So if there is or was life on Mars, my bet is we’ll find out in the next 15 years. 

Image and Video Courtesy of ESA

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