From European Space Agency: “ExoMars locomotion tests”

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From European Space Agency



ESA/Roscosmos Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover

What’s in a name?
7 February 2019

The ExoMars rover that will search for the building blocks of life on the Red Planet has a name: Rosalind Franklin. The prominent scientist behind the discovery of the structure of DNA will have her symbolic footprint on Mars in 2021.

A panel of experts chose ‘Rosalind Franklin’ from over 36 000 entries submitted by citizens from all ESA Member States, following a competition launched by the UK Space Agency in July last year.

The ExoMars rover will be the first of its kind to combine the capability to roam around Mars and to study it at depth. The Red Planet has hosted water in the past, but has a dry surface exposed to harsh radiation today.

The rover bearing Rosalind Franklin’s name will drill down to two metres into the surface to sample the soil, analyse its composition and search for evidence of past – and perhaps even present – life buried underground.

The rover is part of the ExoMars programme, a joint endeavour between ESA and the Russian State Space Corporation, Roscosmos.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Elsie Franklin was a British chemist and X-ray crystallographer who contributed to unravelling the double helix structure of our DNA. She also made enduring contributions to the study of coal, carbon and graphite. ESA has a long tradition of naming its missions for great scientists, including Newton, Planck and Euclid.

“This name reminds us that it is in the human genes to explore. Science is in our DNA, and in everything we do at ESA. Rosalind the rover captures this spirit and carries us all to the forefront of space exploration,” says ESA Director General Jan Woerner.

Looking beyond ExoMars, bringing samples back from Mars is the logical next step for robotic exploration. ESA is already defining a concept for a sample return mission working in cooperation with NASA.

“Returning martian samples is a huge challenge that will require multiple missions, each one successively more complex than the one before,” says David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration.

“We want to bring the Red Planet closer to home. We want to delve into its mysteries and bring back knowledge and benefits to people on Earth. Returned planetary samples are truly the gift that keeps on giving – scientific treasure for generations to come,” he adds.

Long-term planning is crucial to realise the missions that investigate fundamental science questions like could life ever have evolved beyond Earth?

ESA has been exploring Mars for more than 15 years, starting with Mars Express and continuing with the two ExoMars missions, keeping a European presence at the Red Planet into the next decade.

ESA Mars Express

ESA Mars Express Orbiter


ESA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

ESA/ExoMars Schiaparelli module

Before Rosalind Franklin the ExoMars rover can search for signs of life on Mars, it must learn how to manoeuvre the landscape. Scientists and engineers are putting the rover through a series of locomotion tests to fine tune how it will respond to a challenging martian terrain.

The ExoMars mission will see Rosalind the rover and its surface platform land on Mars in 2021. There, the rover will move across many types of terrain, from fine-grained soil to large boulders and slopes to collect samples with a 2-m-long drill, and analyse them with instruments in its onboard laboratory. Engineers must ensure Rosalind does not get stuck in sand or topple over and that it is able to climb steep slopes and overcome rocks.

The ExoMars teams are using a dedicated rover to run locomotion tests. In this image, the full-sized locomotion model is about to move from the surface platform. This rover has been designed to behave exactly like Rosalind would do under martian gravity – that is about a third of gravity found on Earth. For that purpose, the model has a different weight distribution and features a boom mounted on top to achieve the exact location of the centre of gravity of the rover.

A special facility at RUAG Space in Zurich, Switzerland, emulates all the terrain conditions that Rosalind the rover is expected to encounter on Mars: different types of soil, various obstacle shapes and sizes and all kind of terrain slopes. A large hydraulic platform filled with 20 tonnes of soil was put in place for the tests.

Over the past few weeks, ESA, Roscosmos, Thales, Airbus and RUAG engineers have been testing the capability of the rover to egress from its landing platform onto the martian soil. Should the platform and rover find themselves on a slope upon landing, as simulated in the image, Rosalind the rover must be able to negotiate steep inclinations to descend from the platform. The team looked closely at the performance of the rover over the ramps at different inclination angles, from 5 up to 35 degrees.

The steep slope was a challenge for the rover. The wheels found it difficult at times to gain traction, a valuable lesson of what can be expected on Mars.

The rover has six wheels. Each wheel pair is suspended on a pivoted bogie so each wheel can be steered and driven independently. Its flexible metallic wheels, equipped with springs, offer great traction capability, allowing the rover to achieve better grip during obstacle climbing and achieve smoother locomotion.

Thanks to a triple-bogie locomotion system, the rover is able to overcome obstacles as big as its wheels. The rover uses inclinometers and gyroscopes to enhance its motion control.

Two cameras at the top of the rover’s mast allow Rosalind Franklin to see in 3D, like humans do, and identify rocks and slopes in front of it. This also allows the navigation system to take account of, and correct for, any wheel slippage. Rovers on Mars have previously been caught in sand, and continued wheel turning might actually dig them deeper – just like a car stuck in mud or snow.

These tests took place at the same time as the ExoFit field tests. In the most recent campaign, the rover drove from its landing platform and targeted sites of interest to sample rocks in the Mars-like landscapes of the Chilean desert.

See the full article here .

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The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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