ExoMars boot camp in Tenerife

ExoMars boot camp in Tenerife

Summary: Last week, I wrote about the on-board software used to control robots involved in future space missions, such as the ExoMars rover, which should be launched around 2011. But, as reports BBC News, this robot is already trained on Earth, on the slopes of the volcano El Teide in the island of Tenerife to be precise.

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TOPICS: Emerging Tech
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Last week, I wrote about the on-board software used to control robots involved in future space missions, such as the ExoMars rover, which should be launched around 2011. But, as reports BBC News, this robot is already trained on Earth, on the slopes of the volcano El Teide in the island of Tenerife to be precise. And the Telegraph adds that the robot has been nicknamed Bridget and has taken its first steps on its road to Mars. Read more...

Here is the introduction of the BBC News article.

That's not how most people think of the holiday island of Tenerife, but for space scientists and engineers, the barren terrain here makes the ideal training ground for Europe's latest mission to the Red Planet. Amid the rocks and dust of the slopes of the volcano El Teide, a team from the aerospace company EADS-Astrium has spent the past week testing a new rover -- a robot vehicle expected to be launched to Mars in 2011.

Below is an artist's view of the ExoMars lander which will deliver the rover to a location on Mars similar to the volcano El Teide in Tenerife. (Credit: ESA - AOES Medialab)

The ExoMars lander

The writer, David Shukman, was able to see the six-wheeled robot in action.

Under a razor-sharp sky, I watched as the lightweight aluminium wheels scratched and pulled their way over lumps of lava -- if one sticks, the other five take up the strain.
Not surprisingly there were hitches -- nothing major but enough to grind the rover to a halt. Sometimes the laptop that acts as the brain for the time being played up, sending error messages rather than commands to the electric motors.

Nic Fleming, for the Telegraph, provides additional details about the tests in Tenerife.

Engineers from EADS Astrium, the space manufacturing company, shipped the prototype from their base in Stevenage, Herts, to Tenerife where the volcanic debris around the 12,100ft snow-capped Pico de Teide provided conditions as close as possible to those on Mars.

And Fleming also saw some glitches.

During a trial in Tenerife to test the gradient with which Bridget can cope while travelling backwards, the rover's back wheels suddenly reared up in the air like a startled horse causing the front wheels to sink and grind to a halt. Chris Draper, a mission systems engineer, went to investigate, while someone joked: "Stevenage, we have a problem."

Apparently, the engineers didn't lose their sense of humor.

More used to being stuck in front of a computer monitor poring over spreadsheets in Stevenage than the dramatic landscapes of Tenerife's central volcano, he added with a smile: "And it's nice to get out of the office once in a while."

Meanwhile, an ESA news release says that a full-scale ExoMars rover mock-up was shown at the International Aerospace Exhibition and Conference (ILA) in Berlin. Below is an artist's impression of this mockup (Credit: ESA-M. Pedoussaut).

The ExoMars rover

For more details about the ExoMars components, please read this page or watch this multimedia gallery. [Caution: this URL might change in the future.]

Sources: David Shukman, BBC News, May 12, 2006; Nic Fleming, The Telegraph, May 13, 2006; and various web sites

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Topic: Emerging Tech

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