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ESA StarTiger : Seeker

Rimmer at Hills Quarry on its first field trial
Rimmer at Hills Quarry on its first field trial

StarTiger is a European Space Agency programme aimed at tackling complex design issues by co-locating a group of experts, typically eight, from different organisations, in an intensive design environment for around six months.

RAL Space was leading a Consortium to develop long-distance (>1km/day) autonomous navigation systems for interplanetary rovers.  The team included RAL Space, SciSys, BAe Systems, Roke Manor, MDA Space & Robotics, LAAS(F) and Oxford University. The StarTiger campaign was being conducted in offices and a Robotics Lab at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and made use of RAL Space’s Concurrent Design Facility (link opens in a new window) (CDF).  

 RoboVolc at the Robotics Trials Area, RAL Space
RoboVolc at the Robotics Trials Area, RAL Space

The SEEKER project aimed to develop a robust long range navigation software for the next generation of Mars rovers. Previously Mars rovers were able to travel up to 200 meters autonomously while the SEEKER system would enable them to traverse 6 km or more over several days safely without human interaction. This would enable future rovers to land in a safe area and complete long range traverse quickly to parts of Mars where rovers could previously could not have gone. The project included 4 weeks of field trials in the Atacama Desert in Chile near ESO’s Paranal Observatory. During this trial 5.2 km was demonstrated during a single day in a representative environment. The terrain of the Atacama is very similar to Mars visually which makes it the perfect location to conduct such a long range tests. During the integration of the various equipment and software packages on the test platform a local quarry called Tubney Woods quarry (Hills Group) provided a good sized Martian sandbox.

 

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