Prototyping an autonomous vehicle to discover the possibility of life on Mars

2 min read

Letchworth based prototyping company, Ogle Models & Prototypes has been chosen to deliver a ground based prototype of a Mars Rover, as part of Europe’s plan to send a UK-assembled robotic rover to the red planet in 2021.

The company’s model makers were tasked with precisely making the body and solar panels on a Mars Lander rover chassis, to be used for terrain handling and testing purposes in lab conditions.

The robotic rover will be used as part of the second phase of ExoMars to follow up studies exploring the possibility of life on Mars, by drilling below the surface to detect organisms directly.

Airbus Defence and Space approached Ogle to help make a drivable test vehicle, driven both via remote control and autonomously with body and solar panels mounted in place.

A spokesman at Airbus Defence and Space, said: “When the UK Space Agency requested Airbus Defence & Space to provide a Ground Demonstration Model (GDM) of the ExoMars Rover, Ogle Models & Prototypes were the obvious choice to provide the representative ‘bathtub’ structure and solar panels. Both these elements were required to be mass-limited whilst still providing the necessary stiffness to ensure the GDM would remain rigid when driving over rocks.”

To keep the weight of the body and solar panels to a minimum, Ogle used fibre faced aluminium composite Cellite panels.

A CNC machine was used to create 15mm MDF jigs and a table router was used to cut out the Cellite panels from the jigs. Any exposed edges were filled with an automotive filler and sanded back to provide a seal. Ogle’s model makers worked to bond a threaded metal insert to enable bolts and fixings to move securely.

The completed panels were then bonded onto SLS printed extrusions which, when assembled, formed a three-dimensional skeleton with the Cellite panels spanning the flat surfaces.

The tub and solar array was finished in metallic gold which was matched to represent the radiation shielding on the real Mars Rover and eight SLS hinges were designed and printed to allow the solar array to unfold. This section was finished with large vinyls that were printed with the image of photovoltaic cells, and applied to the upper surfaces.

“Whilst an array of CNC and SLS capabilities were used on this project, it was largely completed with bench model making skills to ensure each precise component functioned fully and fitted within the specific design and weight restrictions,” said Dave Bennion the marketing and sales director for Ogle. “Having such wide spread of technologies available on-site allowed the team to react quickly in making last minute adjustments to parts before sending them to SLS or CNC. The combination of materials, machines and the highly-skilled team has resulted in a very rigid yet lightweight prototype.”