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SAFER trials

Credit: Astrium

Mars rover prototype went through field trials in the Atacama desert - with an operation room based in Harwell.


In October 2013 an ESA’s test rover was fitted with scientific instruments and made its first tracks in the sands of Chile’s Atacama Desert. Meanwhile, team members explored the area to select a suitable site for testing, flying a drone to produce an aerial map. The control room was based in Harwell, operated by RAL Space.


The Atacama desert is a good Martian analogue. This trial took the ESA’s ExoMars mission as “reference mission”. In practice, it showed the functioning of the rover and revealed technical problems that would have otherwise remained unknown.

The ExoMars mission will take and analyse samples that may contain signs of past or present life. 


The SAFER field trial is being overseen by ESA’s Directorate of Technical and Quality Management, with its international industrial team led by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council's RAL Space.

The activity is being funded by ESA’s Basic Technology Research Programme, with additional co-funding from the UK Space Agency.

The rover vehicle used for the trial, called ‘Bridget’, was provided by Airbus Defence Space from Stevenage in the UK.

A complete list of partners is available here

Key Individuals

  • ESA’s project manager Michel van Winnendael
  • Sev Gunes-Lavset from RAL Space (project lead), Astrium, Scisys, MSSL, Joanneum Research, University of Aberystwyth, LATMOS, Space-X. University of Leicester, Catapult, funded by ESA and UK Space Agency

Facility Contact

Tel.: +44 (0)1235 445 000
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European Space Agency (ESA) ECSAT
Tel.: +44 1235 444 221
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UK Space Agency
Tel.: +44 (0)20 7215 5000
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