This article provides a brief history of ESA work on Mars missions related to robotics. The article does not provide a complete account of ESA activities for Mars, but it merely mentions those activities which led to work in the A&R group in terms of support to projects or technology development.
The earliest work at ESA, explicitly addressing Mars robotics, was the “Mars Rover Mission” study made by the Science directorate (D/SCI) in 1987. Following this study the Mars Exploration Study Team (MEST) issued a report named “Mission to Mars” (ESA SP-1117) in which a mission based on a network of small landers was proposed.Therefore in the period 1994-96 the INTERMARSNET mission was studied at Phase-A level. The mission featured a small lander with a so-called Instrument Deployment Device (IDD) which in fact was a small rover able to transport instruments and apply them to soil/rocks. Following the scientific need for very small rovers, the A&R section started the “Micro-robots for Scientific Applications” (Micro-ROSA) R&D activity, where ESA’s development of the Nanokhod micro rover was initiated. At the same time ESA assembled a team of scientists, the so-called “ESA Exobiology Team”, to study the issue of where and how to look for extraterrestrial life, The team produced in respectively 1997 and 1998 two reports on “The Search of Life in the Solar System” (red report, ESA SP-1231) and on “The search of Life on Mars” (green report ESA SP-1231). This last report advocated the development on an “ESA exobiology facility”, being an automated set of instruments and sample processing tools to detect signatures of life in soil/rock samples. The A&R Section initiated the “Micro-robots for Scientific Applications II” to develop a micro driller-rover (MIRO) capable to acquire and deliver soil/rock samples to an exobiology facility placed on a lander.
Still in 1998 an internal Groupe de Réflection compiled a report to draft an ESA position w.r.t. to the “Mars Initiative” launched by NASA. The report recommended ESA to develop 4 areas for contributing technology to an international human Mars exploration effort. Among these there was Automation & Robotics. Following the report, in December 2000 the “Automation and Robotics for human Mars exploration” (AROMA) general study was launched, with the goal to identify robotics elements ESA could contribute to a Mars human mission. In 2001 ESA set up the Aurora Programme. The primary objective of Aurora is to create, and then implement, a European long-term plan for the robotic and human exploration of the solar system, with Mars, the Moon and the asteroids as the most likely targets. The first so-called Flagship mission of Aurora is EXOMARS. In this mission a rover will carry a package of Exobiology instruments called Pasteur capable of detecting chemical signature left by extant or extict life forms. The A&R section is heavily involved in the definition of the EXOMARS rover and its complementary robotic means (a robot arm and a driller). To support the development the section has realised 2 EXOMars DEmonstration Rover prototypes (EXOMADER-D and EXOMADER-E) to evaluate locomotion, navigation and control strategies.
- European Space Agency (ESA), Mars Rover Mission: Interim Report of ESA Science and Technology Definition Team, SCI(87)2, ESA, Paris, April 1987.
- European Space Agency (ESA), 'Mission to Mars: Report of the Mars Exploration Study Team', ESA SP-1117
- INTERMARSNET Phase-A Study Report, ESA Publication D/SCI(96)2
- EXOBIOLOGY IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM & THE SEARCH FOR LIFE ON MARS October 1999, ESA SP-1231