A half-scale version of the ExoMars rover, called ExoMars Testing Rover (ExoTeR), manoeuvred itself carefully through the red rocks and sand of 9x9 m Planetary Utilisation Testbed, part of ESA’s Planetary Robotics Laboratory in its ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands.
This was a test of autonomous navigation software destined for ESA’s ExoMars 2020 mission to the red planet. The two-day rover test was conducted by ESA robotic engineers, joined by a team from French space agency CNES in Toulouse. They have more than two decades of experience in autonomous navigation for planetary rovers, culminating in developing the ‘AutoNav’ suite of software that was doing the driving.
The ExoTeR rover, complete with updated software, is now set to return to Altec in Italy – home of ExoMars 2020’s rover control team – allowing them to gain experience with the added functionality of autonomous navigation ahead of ExoMars’s flight software being completed. ExoMars’s final flight software will actually carry two sets of autonomous navigation software, with another developed by Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, UK.