The path taken by the ExoFit model during a campaign at the Atacama Desert, in Chile – following commands from mission control in the United Kingdom, over 11 000 km away.
The ExoFiT field campaign simulates ExoMars operations in every key aspect. During the trial, the rover drove from its landing platform and targets sites of interest to sample rocks in the Mars-like landscapes of the Chilean desert.
The team behind the exercise, a mix of scientists and engineers, is simulating all the challenges of a real mission on the Red Planet, including communication delays, local weather conditions and tight deadlines.
The rover is equipped with a set of cameras and proxy instruments, such as a radar, a spectrometer and a drill, to replicate martian operations.
Scientists in the UK must take decisions on the next steps with the little information they have – a combination of the data transmitted by the rover and satellite images of the terrain.
The ExoFiT teams in the UK set the exploration path and activities for the rover, which travels at a speed of two centimeters per second avoiding rocks and overcoming slopes.
ExoFiT stands for ExoMars-like Field Testing, and it is an essential step to improving European robotic operations not only for ExoMars, but also for future missions aiming to return soil from the Red Planet, such as the Mars Sample Return mission.