Paving the way for future moon exploration missions, the European Space Agency has been testing its lunar rovers on Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy, as an analogue for the lunar surface. Part of ESA’s Autonomous Robotic Networks to Help Modern Societies, or ARCHES programme, these trials are testing the technology required to operate rovers remotely on the moon.
Unlike Mars rovers, which are operated from Earth, these lunar vehicles will be controlled by astronauts orbiting the moon onboard NASA’s planned Lunar Gateway space station, allowing for shorter control delays. During the trial, the remote astronaut was 23 kilometres away from the rover, in the Sicilian city of Catania. Additionally, haptic feedback systems developed by ESA will allow astronauts to undertake remote tasks that require finer control.
“This is one of the first times we put our robot in a really harsh environment here on Mount Etna,” says Thomas Krueger, head of the Human Robot Interaction Lab, ESTEC, Netherlands. “We really try to get as close as possible to real scenarios with surprises, in a hard environment. And if we master this, we are really confident that these technologies can be developed further to make it space grade, to indeed be part of the next moon mission.”