A planetary probe that could eventually be used to build habitats on the moon or explore the surface of Mars has completed tests at a quarry in Milton Keynes.
The Sample Fetch Rover (SFR), affectionately known as Anon, started out to collect sample tubes left on Mars by another rover called Perseverance, which landed on the Red Planet last February.
However, Anon was released after the mission NASA The European Space Agency has announced that Perseverance is already collecting samples on its own.
Still, engineers at aerospace company Airbus, which has been working on SFR since 2018, continue to develop and test the machine.
Part of this development process included quarry testing, which provided a unique environment for testing all rover systems simultaneously for the first time.
“While the mission may be gone, the core technology is still ready and able to work, and this is the final step to proving it works,” said Ben Dobke, Airbus program manager.
“As the Artemis program takes place at the end of the century, the focus has begun to shift to the moon.
“So any rovers or self-driving cars on the moon, the software can definitely be applied to that in the future.”
This Artemis The mission’s long-term goal is to establish a permanent home base on the moon and facilitate human missions to Mars.
What do engineers need to test on the rover?
To use Anon in future lunar programs, engineers need to consider the temperature of the lunar surface and ensure that the rover’s key systems can work in the absence of an atmosphere.
They also had to make sure that the SFR was able to kick in after basically 14 nights in sleep mode, since temperatures are cooler in the dark.
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The prototype is designed to be six times faster than the ExoMars probe, also known as Rosalind Franklin, currently exploring the Red Planet.
However, the engineer explained that unlike the six-wheeled ExoMars probe, the SFR has only four wheels and has greatly enhanced autonomous navigation capabilities.
What can Anon be used for?
While the rover is destined to go to Mars, experts say its technology could have a variety of uses, including building habitats on the moon.
“There are various avenues of investigation, so it could be scientific, into where there is lunar ice,” Mr Dobuk added.
“It could be to support human habitats, whether it’s building them autonomously, or supporting astronauts on the surface.
“So we could have many different applications on the moon.”
It could also be used for “self-driving cars, inspection of infrastructure, tunnels and difficult terrain”, according to Dr Adam Camiletti, head of space systems at the UK Space Agency.
“All the technology developed for the Sample Fetch Rover is still very, very useful as we have developed a lot of expertise and know-how in the UK,” he said.