Mars rover built in Stevenage heads for crucial testing in France before launch

The ExoMars rover was installed in a special protective container for its journey to Toulouse. Pictu

The ExoMars rover was installed in a special protective container for its journey to Toulouse. Picture Max Alexander. - Credit: Archant

Europe’s first ever Mars rover, which has been built in Stevenage and is set to land on the Red Planet in 2021, is leaving the UK for crucial testing in France ahead of its launch next year.

The ExoMars rover was constructed on the Stevenage Airbus site. Picture Max Alexander.

The ExoMars rover was constructed on the Stevenage Airbus site. Picture Max Alexander. - Credit: Archant

The European Space Agency's ExoMars rover, which has been built at Airbus Defence and Space in Gunnels Wood Road, will be the first of its kind to drill up to two metres below the surface and determine if evidence of life is buried underground.

Abbie Hutty, senior spacecraft structures engineer, said: "Our mission has a primary objective of finding life on Mars. We know enough about the surface to know it's too hostile for life to survive there because of all the radiation that's constantly bombarding it. We need to look below the surface. If there is any life still on Mars, that's where we think it would still survive, or if we are looking at past life we might be able to find remnants of that life at that depth."

Today, the six-wheeled solar powered rover is being installed in its special protective container at Airbus in Stevenage for the journey to Airbus in Toulouse, France, for environmental testing to prepare it for launch.

The rover, named after DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin, features nine instruments which will help scientists conduct a step-by-step exploration of Mars.

Rosalind Franklin is Europe's first ever Mars rover. Picture Max Alexander.

Rosalind Franklin is Europe's first ever Mars rover. Picture Max Alexander. - Credit: Archant

It will use panoramic and close-up cameras and will drill for rock samples from various depths, down to a maximum of two metres.

The rover is equipped with an autonomous navigation system developed by Airbus which will enable it to travel between sites of interest much more quickly than by being driven remotely in real time from Earth.

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Abbie explained: "It can take 24 minutes for a signal to get from the Earth to Mars. With autonomous navigation, the rover can look at what's ahead of it and pick its own safe path through and navigate to its final destination."

The rover is scheduled to leave Stevenage tomorrow.

The ExoMars rover has undergone various tests in Stevenage. Picture Max Alexander.

The ExoMars rover has undergone various tests in Stevenage. Picture Max Alexander. - Credit: Archant

The rocket carrying the rover is due to launch from Russia in July next year, but the completed rover needs to be delivered to Russia this year so it can be integrated into the rocket and descent module that will deliver the rover to the surface of Mars.

All being well, the rover is scheduled to land on the Red Planet in January 2021.