Before sending a robot to trace a planet to explore the landscape of Mars or Venus, we must test it here on Earth. Two of these robotic platforms under development for future missions are being tested in the facilities of the European Space Agency: a rolling and a jumper.
It is in fact already planned to roll on the red planet in the framework of the March 1945 program of the ESA . A week of tests has just ended in the Spanish desert one of the many analog programs used by Mars. It looks good. The gravity is a little different, of course, and the atmosphere is a bit bigger, but it's close enough to test some things.
The Charlie control team, who named the prototype, did it hundreds of miles away in the UK – it was not really an interplanetary distance, but they of course thought to simulate the delay that operators would encounter if rover were actually on Mars. There would also be a ton of extra instruments on board.
Exploration and navigation was still entirely done using the information collected by the rover using radar and cameras, and the rover exercise was also used. It rained a day, which is extremely unlikely on Mars, but operators have presumably claimed that it was a dust storm and rolled with it.
Another Earth analog test is scheduled for February in the Atacama Desert in Chile. You can read more about the ExoMars rover and the March 2020 mission here .
The other robot that ESA released this week is not theirs but was developed by ETH Zurich: SpaceBok – you know, like springbok. Researchers believe that moving around like a well-known ungulate could be a good way to get around on other planets.
It's good to ride stable wheels, of course, but there's no point in getting to the end of a rock or going down a ravine to discover an interesting mineral deposit. SpaceBok is supposed to be a very stable skipping machine that can cross rough terrain or walk with a normal quadruped gait as needed (quite normal for robots).
"This is not particularly useful on Earth," admits Elias Hampp, a member of the SpaceBok team, but "it could reach a height of four meters on the moon. effectively. "
He was testing in the ESA "Mars Yard Sandbox" a small enclosure filled with earth and Mars type rocks. The team is looking to improve its range with better vision – the better it can see where it lands and better SpaceBok will be able to stick to that landing.
Interplanetary missions are very popular now and we may soon see private trips to the Moon and Mars. So, even if NASA or ESA do not decide to introduce SpaceBok (or such a creative robot) into the solar system, maybe a generous sponsor will do it.