Current and future developments

The prospect for future developments lays presently within the European Space Exploration Programme Aurora [, ] which foresees, eventually, the establishment of extraterrestrial human colonies.

The Key elements of this programme are:

  • In-situ robotic exploration
  • Sample return
  • Robotic precursors to manned missions
  • Manned exploration

This enumeration demonstrates that, until man starts exploration, numerous missions with an emphasis on sampling, and sampling return, will be performed to assess whether a tolerable environment may be re-created outside Earth.

Such a large-scale sampling probably implies:

  • Usage of Drills and Moles, on Rovers and Aerobots.
  • Miniaturization is required.

Presumably, large-scale installations and automation will be set up in the last phase, before human presence.

The first Aurora element currently in Project development is the ESA-NASA EXOMARS 2018 mission. The ESA rover-mounted corer/drill [ ] shall acquire subsurface core samples at selected intermediate depths down to 2 m, using up to three extension rods. In situ exobiological analyses will mainly look for traces of extinct or extant life. The Mars Robotic Exploration Preparation Programme (MREP) [ ] foresees ESA and NASA collaboration on future Mars missions, with a leading ESA role in the acquisition and safe return of Martian samples. Other Aurora elements consider lunar missions as intermediate steps. Within this prospect, a Lunar Lander is currently studied to allow Europe performing its first steps on the Moon [ ]. To prepare for later phases, the aspects of civil engineering for the construction of Lunar and later Martian bases [ ] and in-situ resources utilization (ISRU) will be emphasized: major development of mechanisms and robotic systems for sampling, drilling and excavating capabilities will be required to this aim. Despite the large size or such devices, lightweight and miniaturization will remain design drivers.


The European efforts towards the technology development of planetary sampling devices have served the first ESA missions including surface soil sampling, after HUYGENS: ROSETTA, with its drill SD2 on the PHILAE comet lander, MARS EXPRESS with the sampling mole PLUTO on the ill-fated lander Beagle2 and currently EXOMARS 2018 with its sampling drill. The major part of these efforts has been performed by European industry under ESA management. In some cases, concepts and devices issued from Eastern of Far-Eastern countries were found helpful, and were adapted to sampling devices, which illustrate the need of international cooperation. The present plans are based on a close cooperation of ESA with NASA.

Preparing for manned mission to Moon and Mars will first require sample return missions like Mars Sample Return [ ]. Further preparatory missions with robotic precursors shall demonstrate the possibility to perform major civil engineering works on Moon and Martian surface.

Within this frame, it is expected that more past developments will demonstrate their worthiness, like e.g. the drill with hammering mechanism. Paving the way for more demanding drilling and excavating devices for robotic exploration will require pursuing and undoubtedly going beyond past efforts.

Last update: 7 May 2014

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