[meteorite-list] ESA Rover Completes Exploring Mars-Like Desert

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2013 13:08:16 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201310182008.r9IK8GQf013144_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


ESA rover completes exploring Mars-like desert
European Space Agency
16 October 2013

Braving high winds, dust devils and unpredictable terrain, ESA's
test rover has completed its exploration across - and under -
Chile's Mars-like Atacama Desert.

The five-day Sample Acquisition Field Experiment with a Rover, or
SAFER, field trial concluded on Saturday 12 October.

An early version of ESA's 2018 ExoMars rover fitted with a trio of
prototype ExoMars instruments was overseen from a remote control
centre at the Satellite Applications Catapult facility in Harwell,

The controllers sat in front of a large video wall, combining data
from the rover's instruments with their own 3D planning maps.

Over the course of six simulated martian days, they reviewed rover
data to select new targets or trajectories for subsequent

"SAFER's purpose is really to build up experience in rover field
testing, so the remote team worked as realistically as possible,"
explains Michel van Winnendael, overseeing the testing for ESA.

"They had to plan good observation points for the instruments and
safe paths for navigation. Once a plan was prepared it was
dispatched to the local team in the field who then forwarded it to
the rover, while trying to remain as 'invisible' as possible for
the remote operators."

This extended to brushing away tyre tracks and their own
footprints with a broom, so as not to give the remote control
centre any inadvertent positioning clues.

The ExoMars rover was used as the "reference mission' for the
trial, helping to maximise the level of realism.

Just as the actual rover will do on Mars, the test rover -
supplied by Astrium in Stevenage, UK and dubbed "Bridget" - hosted
a panoramic camera, close-up imager resembling a geologist's lens
and ground-penetrating radar to identify promising sites for
subsurface excavation.

The one item the rover lacked was a working drill, so whenever the
control centre ordered an excavation the local team stepped in to
manually dig the site. This obtained samples for "ground truth" -
checking that the radar analysis was accurate as well as enabling
close-up analysis.

"At our second simulated drill location the field team found a
layer of rock starting at a depth of 60 cm," remarks Sev
Gunes-Lasnet, project manager for RAL Space. "This comes close to
the kind of features the team was looking for: analogues for
locations on Mars which could hold traces of past or present life."

A valuable element of the field trial was its unpredictability:
high desert winds and a close encounter with a dust devil led the
local ream to shelter their control centre behind a huddle of
cars, although the rover itself was untroubled.

A flat rock that was suddenly flipped by the passage of Bridget's
front wheel was another unexpected problem - useful food for
thought for rover designers and operators.

"Both the remote and field team members are now looking forward to
seeing how things went 'at the other side'," concludes Michel.
"Analysis will continue in the coming weeks."

On Saturday evening the rover made one final trip, prior to being
boxed up for its return to the UK.

As a thank you to the European Southern Observatory on Mount
Paranal, which played host to the SAFER team, Bridget was brought
up to the mountain to meet its staff.

They were able to see the rover on the move, and given the chance
to teleoperate it for themselves.


The SAFER field trial was overseen by ESA's Directorate of
Technical and Quality Management, with its international
industrial team led by the UK Science and Technology Facilities
Council's RAL Space. The activity is funded by ESA's Basic
Technology Research Programme, with additional co-funding from the
UK Space Agency.

To get more details of SAFER, visit the team
at http://safertrial.wordpress.com .
Received on Fri 18 Oct 2013 04:08:16 PM PDT

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