Wednesday, August 4, 2021

SCIENCE IN MOTION FOR THE ROVER TWIN "EXOMARS"

The first scientific tests for the replica of the ExoMars rover began after several weeks of test drives on the Mars Terrain Simulator at ALTEC's facility in Turin, Italy.  With the locomotion system up and running, it's time for the rover's cameras and instruments to explore the Mars-like terrain, both above and below it, in search of the best specimens.  ESA's sister rover Rosalind Franklin, also known as The Ground Test Model (GTM), has been busy surveying 64 square meters of terrain at one of Europe's largest Martian yards, carefully laid out with sandy areas and rocks of various dimensions, as well as simulations of gravity and light to recreate the environment on Mars.

The Rover looks, photographs, probes.

Images come first. Two stereo cameras on the top and bottom of the rover's mast, NavCam and LocCam, allow the GTM to "see" in three dimensions and identify rocks and slopes ahead.  Cameras guide the vehicle on safe routes and help avoid dangers.  Once the rover is in motion, two more sets of cameras, PanCam and CLUPI, come into play to get a full picture of the site with high-resolution images.

These rover "eyes" send panoramic, close-up images of the terrain to the operators of the Rover Operations Control Center (ROCC).  Thales Alenia Space and ALTEC teams worked in synergy with ESA engineers. The images are essential for mapping the geological context and helping scientists decide where to stop the rover and study the surface in more detail.  Choose the goal.  Finding suitable specimens involves much more than just detecting an outcrop and digging.  The rover is equipped with a ground-penetrating radar, WISDOM, and a neutron detector, ADRON, to understand what's under the surface. The search for evidence of life on Mars is a primary goal of the ExoMars 2022 mission. If somewhere on Mars, traces of past or present life are more likely to be found underground, where ancient biological signatures can still be preserved from the strong radiation from the Red Planet. Just as archaeologists on Earth excavate sites, WISDOM can work by analyzing the area in a grid pattern, dividing the terrain into small squares. ADRON's neutron spectrometer will work in conjunction with radar to detect water and hydrated minerals beneath the surface. 

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