'Realistic' Mars landscape in Chile used for rover testing

Posted by ap507 at Oct 21, 2013 04:10 PM |
Dr Derek Pullan and SAFER conduct Mars rover testing in Atacama Desert
'Realistic' Mars landscape in Chile used for rover testing

© Lost on Mars Photography

Dr Derek Pullan from the Space Research Centre, Department of Physics and Astronomy, is currently involved in an ESA-funded project called SAFER (Sample Field Acquisition Experiment with a Rover). The project recently took him to the Atacama desert of Northern Chile, where a prototype Mars rover equipped with sophisticated instruments was used to simulate a mission to the red planet.

Dr Pullan provided scientific input to the project, initially to help select a suitable site that had maximum geological realism for the trial and also to provide in-field expertise during the trial itself. Importantly, suitable sites for these type of tests must “look like Mars”, be large-scale, uncontrolled, exhibit natural geological features, be free of vegetation, show no signs of human activity (including footprints!) and have stable weather (no chance of rain). Candidate sites in Chile, Morocco, Tenerife and the USA were originally evaluated but the team settled on Chile thanks to all the above criteria being met plus the added bonus of local support offered by ESO at the Paranal observatory close to the test site.

The SAFER project is led by the technological partners RAL Space (project lead), EADS Astrium (rover platform) and SCISYS (mission operations software), and is a follow-on to a project called SEEKER, which developed robust long range navigation software for the next generation of Mars rovers. With the inclusion of science (University of Leicester), a payload of instruments (UK, France and Switzerland) and remotely operated via a “Mission Control” in the UK, SAFER provides a more realistic framework in which to learn how to prepare for real missions to Mars.

To keep track of developments relating to SAFER, visit the project blog and the ESA portal.

To see more images, visit Dr Pullan's website.