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Published: 29 August 2013

Scientists take to the beach to test space rovers

Experts in robotics from the University of Surrey have been testing a prototype space rover on the sand dunes of Sussex’s beaches.

Academics and researchers from the Surrey Space Centre (SSC) at the University of Surrey have been using the beaches of Sussex to emulate the terrain of planets like Mars, in order to trial a prototype space rover. The unique conditions created by loose sand and dunes on the beach at West Wittering provide problems akin to those faced by small rovers exploring the surfaces of other planets.

The testing has been undertaken by the Surrey Technology for Autonomous systems and Robotics (STAR) Lab team within SSC and has been led by Professor Yang Gao, Professor of Space Autonomous Systems at the University. The team has used the Surrey autonomous software and rover hardware testbed (SMART) rover during the trials – a micro-rover of the type that offers complementary solutions to the existing large rovers used by the likes of NASA.

“The field trials aim to demonstrate unique micro-rover technologies that have been developed at the STAR Lab”, explained Professor Gao. “The trials have been conducted really well; we have reached all our targets and objectives. Most importantly, we have been able to demonstrate our technology and novel designs in terms of the rover’s ability to navigate by itself over different challenging terrains.”

“The STAR Lab team has developed various enabling technologies to make micro-rovers viable space vehicles within many cost constraints in terms of size, weight and power. This includes low-cost autonomous navigation system based on monocular vision and multi-sensory system for soil property characterization. These field trials will directly enhance the UK contribution to various ongoing European research and missions.”

Video footage of the trials can be found on the STAR Lab YouTube channel.