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Life size model of the ExoMars Rover to be unveiled at Aberystwyth Robotics Week

Space scientists at Aberystwyth University working on the European Space Agency/Roscosmos ExoMars mission which is due to land on Mars in 2021 have built a full size replica of the rover.

The size of a small car, the Aberystwyth ExoMars Rover will be unveiled at the Old College on Friday 29 June as part of the University’s celebration of UK Robotics Week.

Built by Stephen Fearn and Dr Matt Gunn from the Department of Physics, the Aberystwyth replica is a full-scale interactive model of the ExoMars rover that will be tasked with finding signs of life on Mars.

Made mostly from plywood, metal and drainage pipes, the Aberystwyth ExoMars Rover will include interactive activities that explain how the actual rover will drive around and take scientific images and analyse rock samples.

The rover has been built with the support of the UK space Agency and the Institute of Maths, Physics and Computer Sciences as part of their work to promote the ESA/Roscosmos mission and to inspire a new generation of space scientists.

Dr Helen Miles from the Department of Computer Science at Aberystwyth University has been instrumental in designing many of Aberystwyth’s ExoMars outreach activities.

Dr Miles has also created a virtual reality version of the ExoMars rover that is being used by scientists involved with building the mission’s actual rover.

Dr Miles said:

“At Aberystwyth University, we have a passion for science and we love to talk about the exciting things we are involved with. It’s difficult to explain to people what the ExoMars rover will look like and how it will work, especially since there isn’t a complete version ready yet. To help us show everyone what we are part of, we have built a full-scale interactive model so that people will be able to learn about what the rover will see and do, and how it will explore Mars.”

The ExoMars work at Aberystwyth University is led by Dr Matt Gunn from the Department of Physics.

Dr Gunn is a member of three international instrument teams on the ExoMars mission; PanCam, a system of three scientific cameras for digital terrain mapping and is led by the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London; ISEM, the mission’s infrared spectrometer that will assess mineralogy of targets and is led by Russian Academy of Science Space Research Institute; and CLUPI, a high-resolution camera designed for close-up images which is led by the Swiss based Space Exploration Institute.

The team at Aberystwyth University have built hardware for the ExoMars Rover, including a colour swatch inspired by medieval stained glass.

Designed to withstand the very high levels of ultraviolet light on Mars which causes colours to fade quickly, the swatch will be used to calibrate the mission’s camera and spectrometer systems to ensure colours are recorded accurately.

The Aberystwyth team have also been involved with field testing of prototype instruments and developing the pipeline for processing images sent back to Earth from Mars.

Dr Gunn and colleagues have been testing the mission’s camera system, PanCam, in remote desert like locations around the world, including Iceland, Utah in the USA and the Atacama Desert in South America.

Dr Gunn said:

“The camera systems on this mission are highly sensitive as the scientists who work with these images will be looking for very subtle changes in colour. These images are not ordinary colour photographs; they will be used to work out the different types of rocks on Mars. It is known that some rocks form in wet environments, so accurately interpreting the images may help mission scientists to pinpoint where to look for possible signs of life.”

The Aberystwyth ExoMars model will be on view for the first time at An Evening of Space Robotics, an event to celebrate Aberystwyth University’s pioneering work in solar system physics and space robotics on Friday 29 June from 4pm until 9pm.

Featuring a presentation by Sue Horne MBE, UKSA Head of Space Exploration, tickets for the event are free and can be booked online here.