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Bruno on Mars Wants to Beat NASA... But First, He Needs to Know About Craters

Mar 28, 2016 11:59 AM EDT
Curiosity Self-Portrait at 'Mojave' on Mount Sharp
This self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the "Mojave" site, where its drill collected the mission's second taste of Mount Sharp.
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Getty Images)

"Bruno," a British-made robot, is all set to beat NASA in discovering life in Mars, but there is just one drawback--it gets confused by large shadows created by craters and caves.

To solve its confusions with shadows, scientists sought the help of Maj. Tim Peake to remotely steer it in tests and help them find a solution to its problem.

"There are caves on Mars and craters that cast long shadows," said Jeremy Close, communications director at Airbus Defence & Space Communication.

"To explore those areas, it's more efficient to have a human in the loop," he added.

According to The Telegraph, Maj. Peake will remotely operate Bruno from the International Space Station. He will drive the robot into make-shift caves, replicating the conditions on Mars, to seek out targets marked with an "X."

But, the rover will not be reliant to human controls. Head of science Dr. Ralph Cordey said it is programmed to be semi-autonomous.

Human controllers will only need to provide coordinates of the target location and Bruno will map out its best route to get there.

"It can produce its own 3D map of the area ahead of it, look where it's being asked to go, and plot its own path," Dr. Cordey added.

Airbus Defence and Space Communications filled a giant hangar at their UK headquarters in Stevenage with 250 tonnes of sand strewn with artificial boulders, against a backdrop of panoramic photos from Mars to serve as the testing site of their prototype rovers.

Bruno is part of a £946-million ($1.3-billion) project to send a robot to the Red Planet in two years time. Completing the "family" are two other rover prototypes named Bridget and Bryan.

By 2018, a so far nameless machine similar to Bruno, but with a "brain," will be launched to Mars.

The landing site for the rover is flat equatorial region known as Oxia Planum. There is geological evidence in Oxia Planum that surface water existed is the area long ago.

The finished rover will be equipped with a drill, which can bore down two meters below the surface and extract samples to be analyzed in its on-board laboratory. This is important when looking for biochemical signatures of life.

The rover would also be equipped with color panoramic camera in its center to capture unmatched images of the planet.

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