ESA’s ExoMars 2020 Rover Program
This article is a great read on the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover program. The rover is scheduled to launch in 2020, with a Canadian built chassis and locomotion system: essentially the frame of the rover with its legs, wheels, motors, and sensors that allow it to deploy, drive, and steer on Mars. The article shows a cool video of one of the prototypes used for testing, as well as a time lapse of the build process! You can see one of the Mars rover’s side bogies that we are building in the photo below [stowed in the launch configuration]. The rover has three bogies, and each bogie has two legs with a single wheel on each leg (wheels not installed in photo).
The Structural Thermal Model, or STM, featured in the video is one of a few prototypes that are built in addition to the the actual hardware that will travel to Mars. These prototypes help give the engineers and scientists on the program confidence that the rover will actually work once it lands on Mars. I like to think of it as doing a dress rehearsal on the rover before opening night!
These prototypes are subjected to extensive testing to help simulate conditions the rover will see during launch, transit to Mars, and its life on Mars. This could include vibration testing to simulate loads during launch on a rocket, or life cycling over extreme temperatures on Mars with exposure to Martian dust. Testing space hardware and learning from the results is one of the most exciting aspects of an engineering program, in my experience.
ExoMars itself is actually a two-part program. The ExoMars 2016 mission included a Trace Gas Orbiter and the Schiaparelli lander, whereas the 2020 mission includes the rover itself. More about ESA’s ExoMars program can be found here!