SAFER Project

SAFER Field Trials, Chile October 2013

In the frame of the SAFER field trial project, a research and development activity performed by an international industrial team overseen by ESA’s Directorate of Technical and Quality Management, practical experience is being gained this week on operating a Martian rover vehicle prototype equipped with scientific instruments. The industrial team is led by the STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK.
The teams involved in the field trials in Atacama, Chile, will be from the following organisations
ESA, UK Space Agency, RAL Space, SCISYS, Astrium, Space-X, LATMOS, Joanneum Research, UCL, Aberystwyth University, University of Leicester, Satellite Applications Catapult, Harwell.

The SAFER (Sample Acquisition Field Experiment with a Rover) field trails campaign will run for a total of 7 days from Monday 7th October in the Atacama, close to ESO’s Paranal Observatory with parallel activities in Harwell, Oxfordshire. One team will be based in the field in Chile, operating the Bridget rover, and the other will be in the remote control centre based at the Satellite Applications Catapult Centre in Harwell.

The Atacama is a good Martian analogue. It is one of the driest places on Earth. It is visually very similar to potential Martian landing areas. The combination of absence of vegetation and relatively few man-made features in the field, such as roads and buildings, its moderate climate conditions and the good logistic facilities provided by the Paranal observatory of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and last but not least the relative proximity of the city and the airport of Antofagasta significantly facilitate this rover field test campaign.

The trials are not directly part of the ESA ExoMars mission, but the results from the trials will contribute towards this. This is a unique project demonstrating the use of a remotely commanded rover platform (Astrium’s rover, Bridget) equipped with three ExoMars instruments. SAFER will assess the effectiveness of rock outcrop search instrumentation using ExoMars reference scenario, and will elaborate the strategy and procedures to implement search for outcrops and for acquisition of sand/rock samples.

The project aims to give the science team first-hand experience of remotely operating a mobile platform, and acquiring field data from 3 instruments during a field trial. The rover operation will be run as near to a real mission as possible for the Science Team and the remote control centre.

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