[SatNews] Airbus Defence and Space has opened a new state-of-the-art extended Mars Yard test area at its Stevenage site—the facility was opened by Secretary of State for Business Vince Cable, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, Dr. David Parker, and Director of Science and Robotic Exploration at the European Space Agency, Alvaro Giménez.
Europe’s first Mars rover will have an unmatched capability to autonomously navigate up to 70 meters a day with no outside guidance from ground control. The new extended Mars Yard provides a realistic and representative Martian environment to allow the Guidance, Navigation and Control team of the ExoMars rover project to finalize the sophisticated autonomous navigation system. The new enlarged facility is 30 metres by 13 metres, contains 300 tons of specially selected sand and includes design features to ensure that the environment is the closest match possible to Mars. The walls, doors, and all interior surfaces are painted a reddish-brown colour mimicking the background color on Mars, and the yard also includes a large mural of the Martian landscape. These features ensure the rover navigation cameras see as realistic a Martian landscape as possible.
The Mars Yard will be used up until launch and will also be kept available after the rover has landed on the surface of Mars in 2019—if necessary to address any problem by simulating the situation on Earth. Manufacture of the flight rover will begin early in 2015 after construction of an advanced clean room for interplanetary missions at Airbus DS’s Stevenage site. Mission launch is planned for 2018.