ExoMars prototype test driven from 6,000 miles away

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The engineering team that will drive ExoMars 2020 on the surface of Mars in 2021 has completed a test drive using an engineering prototype, controlling it from more than 6,000 miles away.

Experts at the European Space Agency’s centre in Oxfordshire completed a series of tests across nearly 6,900 miles (11,000 km) in order to see how the Mars rover reacts to commands across large distances.

When on the surface of Mars, the rover will need to be controlled when it is up to 250 million miles from Earth.

The trials team used a new model called ‘Charlie’ to test hardware, software and to practice science operations for the future European Space Agency (ESA) ExoMars rover, which will look for life on Mars in 2021. The Atacama desert was chosen because it is the closest we can get to a Martian-like environment.

I must admit that every press release from Europe about ExoMars 2020 gives me worried chills. Each release is often filled too much with empty boasts and little substantive detail. Worse, each seems to repeatedly remind me of some guy working in his garage on a weekend project.

The issue could merely be a case of poor press release writing, but something about each release makes these alarm bells go off in the back of my mind. With the launch only about sixteen months away, I hope I am wrong.



  • “alarm bells go off in the back of my mind”

    With Roscosmos / IKI building the surface platform (aka lander) with the launch on a Proton-Briz-M, I had to give up and hit the STOP button on my alarm bell a long time ago.

    It’s just nuts for ESA to gamble the expensive Rosalind Franklin on Russian transport when you consider Russia’s abysmal batting average. ESA should have gone with a more modest stationary lander (Schiaparelli on steroids) carried to Mars on a dedicated communications orbiter.

    Maybe next time.

  • steven jones: Your reservations, while certainly valid, apply exclusively to doubts about the Russians. My point here however deals instead with what I see Europe doing. Something about their entire ExoMars 2020 effort rings weak to me, and leaves me with some doubts about its success.

  • se jones

    I’ve worked for the North American division of a European tech company for 20 years now, where I’ve done collaborative engineering on several space projects, including the Huygens probe and MSL instruments for the Centro de Astrobiología. In my experience, ESA and the European aerospace sector in general, is on par with American efforts.

    Yes, some of these press releases are pretty sad, but I wouldn’t judge their project management based on the PR dept. output. Conversely, the NASA/Boeing/LM PR material for SLS & Orion is top notch, to outsiders living in Mongolia these NASA programs must look spectacular!

  • se jones: Your point is very well taken. As I said, I hope those alarm bells at the back of my brain are unwarranted.

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