Dutch students explore ESA's Mars Yard

Mars on Earth

4 July 2013

A little corner of ESA’s technical heart that is forever Mars: this rubble-strewn model of the Red Planet is used to put prototype planetary rovers through their paces. Officially known as the Automation & Planetary Robotics Lab, its nickname is the ‘Mars Yard’.

Dutch students explore this alien environment in the photo shown here, part of a series taken by image gallery TechniekBeeldbank.nu. The site offers the media positive images of engineering to appeal to young people.

Prototype rover in Mars Yard

The Mars Yard is housed in ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, in the Agency’s Automation & Robotics Section. 

An 8 x 8 m square filled with sand and different sizes of gravel and rocks, the Mars Yard offers a small crater, a boulder field, a sandy dune and a gravel slope area.

Motion tracking system

This martian testbed serves to assess rover locomotion and navigation as well as the positioning of robotic arms – then check how all these elements operate together in practice, as integration is a major challenge in space robotic systems. 

Specialised equipment for precisely recording the robots' performance includes motion-tracking infrared cameras.

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