The Rosalind Franklin Mars Rover is being put through its final preparation steps and has just received its eyes.
The PanCam will be the most sophisticated scientific camera to be sent on a mission to the red planet having been in development for 15 years. The panoramic camera system consists of two cameras that work in tandem to capture detailed, multi-wavelength 3D photographs.
In July 2018, the UK Space Agency launched a competition to name the Mars rover and Rosalind Franklin was selected out of a colossal 36,000 submitted names.
Rosalind Franklin was a British chemist who had an instrumental part in the discovery of DNA. In 1953 she produced several X-Ray images that captured a strand of DNA, providing the first evidence of DNA’s double-helix structure.
The rover’s camera will be instrumental in its mission as its colour quality is 8 filters per eye cover 400-1100 nm. This allows it to capture full-colour images that also give insight into the make-up of minerals on the planet via spectral analysis.
Professor Andrew Coates, PanCam Principal Investigator from the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, said: “Our wide angle cameras will do more than is possible with human eyes by identifying water-rich minerals and studying water and dust in the atmosphere. They also will map the rover’s surrounding in 3D, the High Resolution Camera will add rock texture and detail, and can watch for hazards underneath the rover.”
“Our engineering team has dedicated more than fifteen years to delivering PanCam, and it’s thrilling to see all their hard work now being added to this amazing rover. We proposed the instrument in 2003, merged competing teams, designed, built, tested and calibrated the instrument with a fantastic UK and international team. Now we are ready to go. Next stop Mars.”
European Mars Rover
A key piece of software used by the rover is the European Robotic Goal-Oriented Autonomous Controller or ERGO. The system was developed by a consortium of colleges and enterprise, with Airbus and GMV leading the research.
ERGO enabled the rover to autonomously travel 1.4 kilometres with the goal of taking a soil sample in a remote location. Travelling through the Moroccan terrain the rover encountered steep gorges and slopes alongside the wide plains of the Sahara desert.
With the ERGO autonomous software the rover successfully navigate the terrain adapting to unforeseen obstacles and situations using its equipped camera and image recognition system.
As part of its autonomous programming the Sherpa will observe the surrounding terrain and mark unknown features for analysis and characterisation, allowing it to identify research items that have been missed by human eyes.
The tests were done as part of the European Horizon2020; a seven-year programme designed to foster EU research and innovation. As part of this programme the ExoMars mission aims to land a rover on the surface of Mars in 2020. The UK Space Agency has invested £262 million towards the mission.
Sherpa has the ability to alter its initial path, pre-planned by human controllers, in order to investigate terrain that it has deemed interesting.
UK Science Minister Jo Johnson commented that: “The supremely complex Rosalind Franklin Mars rover is a testament to the strength of the UK space industry, our scientific experts, commitment to the European Space Agency and our support for international collaborations in research.”