Autonomous Driving on Mars

Germany is celebrating itself as the first country to legalize autonomous driving. Mars is the first planet on which driving is purely autonomous. Without a safety driver, the newest vehicle on the red planet has been moving completely autonomously since February 18, 2021. Due to the 5- to 20-minute delay until a signal from Earth reaches Mars, timely human intervention is currently not really possible.

The latest Mars Rover Perseverance is quite different from its predecessors. For example, new materials have been used to reduce the wear and tear on the tires caused by the harsh Martian climate, new analysis equipment has been sent along, as well as a microphone, for example. But also a helicopter weighing about 2 kilograms is included, with which a flight on another planet is to be carried out for the first time. It is more a proof of concept to be on the way in the future not only rolling but also flying on other celestial bodies.

Size ccomparison: Spirit (left), Sojourner (middle) and Curiosity (right)

Of particular interest is that advances in autonomous driving on Earth are leading to new possibilities on Mars. Whereas previous probes were manually controlled from Earth, resulting in slow travel and thus a fairly limited range, Perseverance is equipped with autonomous driving technology. This allows the rover to independently explore larger areas of the Martian surface at close range than was ever possible before.

During the autonomous explorations, samples are to be repeatedly taken with the drilling tools, gas chromatographs and mass spectrometers carried along. A total of almost 40 samples will be sealed in small capsules and left on the Martian soil, which will then be picked up by another probe in a later mission and sent back to Earth.

Here is an interesting video with many interesting details about the propulsion, the analyzers and the tasks of the Mars Rover Perseverance.

This article was also published in German.

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