UK Built ExoMars Rover Quicker than NASA’s Curiosity

This article has been just updated: January 6th, 2020

Mars Breakthrough: ‘Inspiring’ UK built ExoMars Rover that’s vastly quicker than NASA’s Curiosity Rover

A BRITISH-built Rover aimed at finding evidence of life on Mars has covered almost 7,000 miles in Chile’s Atacama desert during tests involving a team of Oxfordshire-based scientists – vastly outstripping the 25 miles traveled by NASA Curiosity Rover during the seven years it spent on the Red Planet.

UK built ExoMars Rover that's vastly quicker than NASA's Curiosity

With British science at the heart of the pioneering project, Science Minister Chris Skidmore has called the mission “inspiring” and further evidence of the UK’s burgeoning space sector as it gears up for life after Brexit.

Meanwhile, Ludovic Duvet, ESA’s Mars Sample Return System and Technology Engineer, who is based at the Europe-wide organization’s European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) in Harwell in Oxfordshire, said the “exciting” was a triumph of international collaboration, with UK scientists working alongside colleagues from Germany, France.

The United States and elsewhere. Experts working from Harwell completed a series of tests across nearly 6,900 miles (11,000 km) in order to see how the latest incarnation of the Mars rover – known as Charlie – reacts to commands across large distances.    

UK built ExoMars Rover that's vastly quicker than NASA's Curiosity

When on the surface of  Mars Insight, the rover will need to be controlled when it is up to 250 million miles from Earth.

Curiosity Rover moves at a sedate pace of 0.087 miles per hour, equal to just over 150 yards.

The trials team used Charlie, which was built in Stevenage at the headquarters of Airbus Defence and Space, to test hardware, software and to practice science operations for the future European house Agency (ESA) Robotic Exploration of Mars, which will look for life on Mars in 2021.

The Atacama desert was chosen because it is the closest scientists could get to a Martian-like environment.  

UK built ExoMars Rover that's vastly quicker than NASA's Curiosity

Mr. Skidmore said: “This testing is an inspiring scientific achievement and essential to prepare the scientists and engineers involved for not only this mission to the Red Planet but for future endeavors.

“The Mars mission showcases the very best of the UK’s space sector and is a testament to the strengths of our international science collaborations. It also exemplifies our ambitious modern Industrial Strategy which aims to make the UK the world’s most innovative economy by creating opportunities for business through science.”  

UK built ExoMars Rover that's vastly quicker than NASA's Curiosity

Mr. Duvet told “It is tremendously exciting to see the Rover in action.” The tests were vital because they would help develop techniques to ensure the Rover could be positioned into the most advantageous place to drill into the Martian soil when begins exploring the planet.   The finished Rover would also feature a navigation system that featured elements of artificial intelligence, he added.

ECSAT hosts the new Remote Control Centre, where scientists and engineers are learning how to operate the rover and receive information from its instruments. The testing, which will continue until tomorrow, is a more complex trial following on from a previous successful test-drive in Spain’s Tabernas Desert in October, which was controlled from the nearby Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Harwell Mission Operations Centre.  

UK built ExoMars Rover that's vastly quicker than NASA's Curiosity

Scientists and engineers are gaining valuable experience in science operations and learning how to teleoperate the rover in the field.

ESA’s human and robotic exploration director, David Parker, said the tests were named ExoFit, standing for ExoMars-like Field Testing.

He added: “The results can facilitate America prepare the $64000 Rosalind Franklin rover for the challenge of safe operation way across the scheme.” More than 60 people from different organizations are involved, including the UK Space Agency, Airbus Defence and Space and the Open University.

The ExoMars Rover will hunt for life on Mars Insight.

UK built ExoMars Rover that's vastly quicker than NASA's Curiosity

The team in Chile set up the rover, which is equipped with several cameras and proxy instruments for science, such as spectrometers and a drill, in an area of scientific interest and challenging from a locomotion point of view.

The rover will traverse areas with obstacles and slopes. Scientists will try to understand the geological history of the area and look for biomarkers using only the data sent by the rover.   Scientists will have just a few hours to plan the next day activities.  

UK built ExoMars Rover that's vastly quicker than NASA's Curiosity

Marie-Claire Perkinson, Head of Exploration and Robotics at Airbus said: “Doing field trials in a Mars-like environment is the best way to prove that our rover and its instruments and systems all work as they should.

“They also help the teams iron out any problems to ensure that when we finally go to Mars, we know that everything will work first time and we can concentrate on the search for life.”

Exo FiT is a project managed and implemented by Airbus Defence and Space. It is funded by ESA’s human and robotic exploration program, which includes work in Low Earth Orbit aboard the International Space Station as well as missions to the Moon and Mars.    

The first part of ExoMars Rover, the Trace Gas Orbiter, is already operational around Mars planet, delivering stunning images of the Red Planet as well as relaying data from NASA’s InSight lander and Curiosity rover.

UK built ExoMars Rover that's vastly quicker than NASA's Curiosity

The future ExoMars rover is going to be the primary of its kind to travel across the Martian surface and drill all the way down to verify if proof of life is buried underground, protected from the Sun’s radiation that bombards the surface of the Mars Insight.

Last month the Science Minister, along with British ESA astronaut Tim Peake, revealed the rover will be named Rosalind Franklin, after the UK scientist and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, following a public competition.

ECSAT, in Harwell, is home to ESA’s Analogue Curation Facility which is supporting future planetary exploration. Under the ESA contract, Airbus Stevenage is also studying a sample fetch rover, which could retrieve samples left by NASA’s Mars 2020 rover as part of a future joint NASA/ESA Mars Sample Return campaign.

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