Planetary Rover Destined for Missions to the Moon or Mars Being Tested at Milton Keynes | Science and technology news
A planetary rover that could be used to build habitats on the moon or explore the surface of Mars has been put through its paces at a quarry in Milton Keynes.
The Sample Fetch Rover (SFR), affectionately dubbed the Anon, was originally built to collect sample tubes left on Mars by another rover called Perseverance, which landed on the red planet last February.
However, Anon was subsequently dismissed from the mission NASA and the European Space Agency announced that Perseverance is already collecting samples itself.
Despite this, engineers from the aerospace company Airbus, who have been working on the SFR since 2018, have continued to develop and test the machine.
Part of this development process includes quarry testing, which provides a unique environment to test all of the rover’s systems simultaneously for the first time.
“Even though the mission has faded, the core technology is still ready and operational, and this is the final step in proving it works,” said Airbus project manager Ben Dobke
“With the Artemis program taking place at the end of the decade, the focus has shifted to the moon.
“So this software can certainly be applied to any rovers or autonomous vehicles on the moon in the future.”
That artemis Mission’s long-term goal is to establish a permanent base camp on the moon and enable manned missions to Mars.
What do engineers need to test on the rover?
For Anon to be used in future lunar programs, engineers must consider lunar surface temperatures and ensure that the rover’s key systems will function in the absence of an atmosphere.
You also need to ensure that the SFR can be turned on after 14 nights of essentially sleep mode due to the cold temperatures in the dark.
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The prototype is said to operate six times faster than the ExoMars rover, also known as Rosalind Franklin, which is currently exploring the Red Planet.
However, unlike the six-wheeled ExoMars rover, the SFR only has four wheels, as well as greatly improved autonomous navigation capability, the engineers explained.
What could Anon be used for?
While the rover was destined to travel to Mars, experts have suggested its technology could be useful for a variety of purposes, including building habitat on the moon.
“There are different ways of investigating, so going to places where there is lunar ice might be scientific,” added Mr. Dobke.
“It could support human habitats, whether it’s building habitats autonomously or driving astronauts around on the surface.”
“So there are a number of different applications that we could use to be autonomous on the moon.”
It could also be used for “autonomous vehicles, inspection of infrastructure and tunnels and in difficult terrain,” according to Dr. Adam Camilletti, Head of Space Systems at the UK Space Agency.
“All the technology that has been developed for Sample Fetch Rover is still very, very useful as we have developed a tremendous amount of expertise and know-how in the UK,” he said.