ISS astronaut to steer rover on Earth

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On to Mars! The British have enlisted the skills of astronaut Tim Peake on ISS to do some test driving of a prototype rover planned for launch on the second ExoMars mission in 2018.

Major Peake will operate Bruno remotely from the International Space Station. His mission will be to drive the robot into a make-shift cave, which will replicate the conditions on Mars, where he will seek out targets marked with an “X”. “There are caves on Mars and craters that cast long shadows,” said Airbus Defence & Space communications director Jeremy Close. “To explore those areas, it’s more efficient to have a human in the loop.”

I must be a bit of a skeptical grump here: Looking at this story I found it packed with more public relations junk than you can imagine. The whole test facility shown is absurd. All show, no reality. Also, their claims about the rover’s route-finding superiority don’t sound right to me.

And the rover itself? This is the prototype of what they plan to launch in 2018? You have got to be kidding? We are less than two years from launch. While I grant this is probably only a model for testing the robot’s route-finding capability, using something held together by packing tape at this late date hardly fills me with confidence about the final product.

Hat tip John Batchelor for sending me the link.

One comment

  • Gealon

    I think you have good reason to be skeptical Rob, looking at the pictures of this prototype, I’m just shaking my head. So far all four, successful Mars rovers, Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity, have used rotary based steering mechanism. I do not count the Lunakhods or the Russian’s Mars rover as they steered with “Tank Drive”, or in the case of their Mars rover, did not steer nor even had wheels at all. This rover however has done something I simply cannot understand, it is evidently utilizing linear actuators to steer the rovers front and rear wheels instead of servos. Not only would this weigh much more then servos and drive up launch cost, they would be prime for mechanical failure in the dusty Martian environment. Heck, even if this was just a slapped together testbed for the rover electronics I wouldn’t want to get those actuators anywhere near that sandbox they are playing in. For them to even consider using linear actuators rather then servos represents to me a complete detachment from a good engineer’s design process. There is a reason we abide by KISS.

    Using actuators not only adds unneeded weight to the vehicle, it’s adding more modes for failure, more complexity and occupying more volume. I can’t speak to the pointing accuracy of the actuators either. With the servos you can always tell where they are pointed, how many motor turns it took and how much current they drew during the move. Now for all I know they do have tachometers in the motors for the actuators and are able to track motor turns and such, but it is in the mechanical linkages to the wheel steering gear is where things are going to start to lose their accuracy.

    Now the steering gear aside, everything about this machine does say prototype to me, it is just a rolling testbed as far as I can see and is most certainly not the vehicle they intend to launch. I can only assume that they will adopt a more conventional architecture for the actual flight vehicle. If not, then I would not be surprised to be reading a headline here on BTB to the effect of “I told you so” some two and a half to three years down the line, if it ever does launch.

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