The European Space Agency plans to send its ExoMars rover to Mars in 2020 to explore the red planet’s surface for signs of past (or present) life.
But before that can happen, engineers need to make sure that the rover’s critical internal components can endure the bumpy rocket ride and survive the harsh conditions imposed by the long trip through outer space.
Image Credit: Airbus Defense and Space/ESA
To do that, engineers placed an exact replica of the ExoMars rover’s core, known as the Structural Thermal Model (STM), on a vibration machine in a Toulouse, France-based facility that can simulate frequencies of up to 100Hz.
In the video embedded below, you can see the vigorous vibration testing that the STM experiences before moving onto the next testing phases:
Upon testing the replica, engineers can discern whether the final design will require any additional modifications before it gets sent to a world more than 33.9 million miles away from Earth on average. If everything checks out, they’ll eventually conduct the same tests on the final ‘flight-worthy’ model.
But severe shaking isn’t the only test the ExoMars rover’s core needs to survive; it also needs to withstand space-like temperatures in a vacuum. Engineers can simulate these space-centric characteristics inside of a specially-designed vacuum chamber and ensure that everything operates as expected.
Testing space equipment before launch can be a lengthy and expensive process, but it prevents potential mishaps that could have otherwise been avoided. After all, it’s much easier to diagnose and fix problems right here on Earth than it would be in outer space or on Mars.
It should be interesting to see how the testing fares in the future and whether the ESA will meet its 2020 deadline to launch the ExoMars rover.