‘Ground control to Major Tim’ - British astronaut Tim Peake to drive Stevenage built Mars rover across simulated planet surface

British astronaut Tim Peake is pictured on the International Space Station
Credit: ESA/NASA

British astronaut Tim Peake is pictured on the International Space Station Credit: ESA/NASA - Credit: Archant

The prototype of a Stevenage built Mars rover that will one day trundle across the surface of the Red Planet is to get a test drive from none other than British astronaut Tim Peake.

The ExoMars rover called Bridget which has been built by Stevenage based Airbus Defence and Space, is one of three rover prototypes - the others are named Bruno and Bryan - which are being tested at the firm’s Gunnel’s Wood Road base.

When it lands on Mars in 2019 the final version of the rover will test soil samples six feet below the Martian surface to look for biochemical signs of life, and will take colour images of the rocky landscape.

The rover will be remotely controlled by an orbiting spacecraft, so in order to test the systems, Major Peake will take the controls and pilot Bridget over an artificial Martian landscape on April 29.

Airbus engineers are busy adapting the test bay called the Mars Yard so it looks and feels like the surface of Mars. One area is being transformed into a dark shaded crater.

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Elie Allouis, a robotic systems engineer at Airbus, said: “It will be quite challenging for Tim to be operating in the dark, Maj Peake has never visited the Mars Yard, but he will have to drive by remote control, avoiding obstacles and identifying rocks representing scientific targets, which have been marked with a fluorescent chemical to make them glow in the rover’s ultraviolet light.”

Because the rover will have limited battery life in the shade, Maj Peake will be given a maximum of two hours to guide it around the simulated Martian cave at a cruising speed of 2cm per second.

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Writing in his blog from the international space station last month, Maj Peake said: “The goal is to see how well an astronaut-robot system can adapt to unforeseen scenarios.”

He will watch a 10 minute training video then begin operating Bridget with a control panel designed for the space station.

Last month the ExoMars 2016 mission launched a rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It will place a satellite in orbit around Mars which will eventually be used to control the rover.

Watch out for live feeds of Maj Peake’s mission on April 29 on the Comet’s website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

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