Washington: European Space Agency`s test rover, which has been fitted with scientific instruments, has now begun exploring Chile`s Atacama Desert - the driest place on Earth.
This week`s Sample Acquisition Field Experiment with a Rover, or SAFER, field trial is gaining experience in remotely operating a Mars rover prototype equipped with scientific instruments.
Michel van Winnendael, overseeing the testing for ESA, said that during the past few days they have been busy preparing for the actual trial and a number of sites have been visited, based on guidance provided by Chilean geologist Prof. Guillermo Chong.
The scientific instruments used in the trial are designed to help search for the best location to drill down to collect subsurface samples on Mars. Sheltered from surface radiation and harsh oxidising chemicals, such samples may contain signs of past or present life.
ESA`s 2018 ExoMars mission is acting as the `reference mission` for the trial. The rover vehicle used for the trial, called `Bridget`, is provided by Astrium Stevenage in the UK.
On Tuesday morning a trio of prototype ExoMars rover instruments was fitted to Bridget. The panoramic camera provides stereo 3D terrain imagery, the close-up camera works like a geologist`s hand-lens for high-resolution imaging, and the radar peers through soil for a detailed 3D view of the shallow subsurface beneath the rover.