Every journey begins with a single step – or in this case a downward trundle.
The ‘egress’ of Europe’s ExoMars 2018 rover off its lander will be the second most stressful moment of the mission after Mars landing.
So to build up experience in the problem, a half-scale rover on a mock-up lander was placed in the outdoor 80 x 50 m ‘Mars Yard’ of France’s CNES space agency for a two-day test on 28–29 October. It was controlled remotely by a team at ESA’s ESTEC technical centre, a thousand kilometres away in the Netherlands. Watch a timelapse video of the campaign here.
They were given no idea where in the sprawling Mars Yard the rover was located for each test scenario. The only information they had came from cameras and sensors in the rover and lander. Adding to the difficulty, realtime remote control of the rover was out – the sheer distance to Mars will make it impractical in reality.
Instead, they could receive telemetry at regular intervals then send back a to-do list of commands. For the purposes of testing, these communication passes came once every hour – in reality they would occur once or twice a day.
The team on the ESTEC side came from ESA’s Automation and Robotics section and ExoMars project as well as from industrial partners Trasys Space Belgium, Thales Alenia Space Italy and Altec Italy. The testing was also tracked from ESA’s ESOC control centre in Darmstadt, Germany. [More at links]