The European Space Agency or ESA recently tested three self-driving rovers in Mars-like desert of Morocco.
Europe's biggest rover field test that took place at the Sahara Desert lasted for a couple of weeks. During which, more than 40 engineers carried out the field testing of the automated navigation systems at different locations.
PERASPERA Ad Astra Project
The field test, hosted by the Ibn Battuta Centre, was conducted near Erfoud in Morocco, on the northern edge of the Sahara Desert. EU's Europlanet Research Infrastructure chose the wind-blown desert as it closely resembles the Red Planet's landscape.
According to the ESA, the testing of the three self-driving rovers allowed the engineers to determine whether the rovers' designs would be suitable on Mars.
"What this kind of field test gives you is the proof of the pudding that your design is working well, even in some of the most challenging environments we can imagine," said Gianfranco Visentin, head of the agency's Automation and Robotics section.
This test already marked the end of the first phase of a "strategic research cluster" involving space robotics technologies. This cluster receives funding from EU research and innovation program Horizon 2020.
The PERASPERA Ad Astra (Latin for "to the stars through hardships") project serves as the coordinator of the said cluster. This project is a partnership among Italy's ASI space agency, France's CNES space agency, the DLR German Aerospace Center, Spain's CDTI technology agency, and the UK Space Agency, UKSA.
The Field Test Is A Success
The two-week field test was successful according to Visentin. The SherpaTT, one of the three self-driving rovers had managed to traverse 1.3 kilometers entirely on its own. Using its autonomous science element, it found strange-shaped stones and asked the planner to move into a better position to capture more images.
Visentin explained that this autonomous functionality feature is significant for scientific missions in the near future.
"This is important for the future when there will be many more rovers going to Mars and they'll be moving hundreds of meters per day," Visentin stated. "There won't be schools of analysts to scrutinize every image - intelligent rover systems will be needed to detect what is interesting and send it back to Earth."
Mars is seen as the next great human frontier. Its exploration has already begun wherein space agencies have spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet. NASA has also deployed three Mars rovers so far, although, only two of which are functional at this time. ESA, on the other hand, has now devised plans to send additional rovers that will further explore Mars in the near future.
Following the conclusion of the field testing, the PERASPERA is now moving to a new phase. This project will culminate in a space mission by 2023.