It would survey the ground with a 3D camera, create a digital terrain model, verify its present location, run internal simulations and then make an autonomous decision on the best path to follow, based on obstacles, the rover's current status and risk/resource considerations.
"Then it will drive itself to the target. We expect its target accuracy to be within one-half metre over a traverse of 20 metres," says Bob Chesson, head of the Human Spaceflight and Exploration Operations Department in ESA's Operations directorate.
ExoMars profits from current robotic explorers
As the next generation of robot, ExoMars will profit from lessons learned from the current generation, including NASA's Mars Explorer Rover (MER) mission, including the need for improved locomotion ability, improved local terrain sensing to avoid ground slippage and the need for higher autonomy to transverse cluttered terrain.
Earlier missions, such as NASA's Sojourner rover in 1997, used an even less sophisticated approach, with Sojourner sensing its surrounding terrain, but then with all processing and path planning being done on Earth. "We're not shy in trying to learn from the experiences of our sister agencies," says Chesson.
Innovative ground control to enable autonomous functioning
For ExoMars, the controllers on Earth would most likely be located in a 'rover dedicated control room', similar in concept to the dedicated control rooms (DCR) that ESA now sets up for individual missions that orbit planets.
ESOC will serve as the overall mission operations control centre (MOCC), controlling the launch and early orbit phase (LEOP), the cruise to Mars, the separation and landing of the Descent M
Contact: Jocelyne Landeau-Constantin
European Space Agency