NASA makes successful rover missions seem mundane. Spirit and Opportunity were wildly successful, and Curiosity and Perseverance would both be considered successes even if they stopped working today. But complex missions don’t succeed without rigorous testing.
The ESA takes that lesson to heart, and when it comes to their Mars rover, they’ve built a ‘rover playground’ to test it in.
When it arrives on Mars, the ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover will join a growing fleet of robotic rovers, landers, and orbiters dedicated to searching for life on Mars. As part of the Exomars program, this mission was a collaborative effort between the ESA and the Russian State Space Corporation (Roscosmos). Whereas the ESA would provide the rover, Roscosmos was to provide the launch services and the Kazachok lander that would deliver Rosalind Franklin to the surface.
After many years of development, testing, and some delays, the Rosalind Franklin rover passed its System Qualification and Flight Acceptance Review in March. The Review Board confirmed that the rover was ready to be shipped to the launch site at Baikonur Cosmodrome and would make the launch window opening on September 20th, 2022. Unfortunately, due to the suspension of cooperation with Roscosmos, the ESA’s rover finds itself stranded on Earth for the time being.
We all know how exploration by rover works. The rover is directed to a location and told to take a sample. Then it subjects that sample to analysis and sends home the results. It’s been remarkably effective.
But it’s expensive and time-consuming to send all this data home. Will this way of doing things still work? Or can it be automated?