A precise replica of the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover has begun a series of test drives at the Aerospace Logistics Technology Engineering Company’s Mars terrain simulator in Turin, Italy.
Rover operators will practise controlling the rover in preparation for its landing on Mars’s Oxia Planum in June 2023. As it moves around the simulated Martian terrain, the ground test model is supported by a cradle attached to the facility’s roof, simulating Mars’s lower gravitational field, which is just a third that of Earth.
The rover’s first tests have been relatively straightforward. The operators have been commanding it to drive around the simulated terrain, climb hills and slopes, and negotiate boulder-strewn areas. But in the coming weeks, more autonomous control will be assigned to the rover, allowing its onboard software to make more navigational decisions. The operators will also test the drilling function.
Rosalind Franklin is designed to drill down two metres into the ground, much deeper than any previous Mars mission. It will retrieve underground samples and analyse them for any biochemical signatures of past life on the planet.