What could go wrong? Boris test drives prototype Mars rover


Robotics systems engineers Matt Lisle, left, with Yvonne Pickering show Boris Johnson one of three prototype Mars rovers at the Airbus Defence and Space plant in Stevenage (Credits: AP)

Boris Johnson tried his hand at piloting a prototype Mars rover during a visit to aerospace company Airbus in Stevenage this week.

The prime minister was handed the controls to a version of the 300kg ExoMars rover developed at the site that will one day roll across the dusty dunes of the Red Planet.

The rover is scheduled to land on Mars in 2023 and start searching for signs of past or present life.

‘I think people just don’t realise what an incredible lead the UK has in space technology. A quarter of all the world’s telecoms satellites actually made right here in Stevenage,’ Johnson told reporters during his visit.’

Airbus is the largest space company in Europe and the chief rival to Boeing, which is planning to launch its an uncrewed mission to the ISS today.

Airbus also forms an integral part of the £14.8 billion UK space sector and is responsible for building satellites at its Stevenage plant.

The prime minister was there to officially open a state-of the-art new HQ, Orbit House, will be home to 500 space engineers and experts. 

Robotics systems engineers Matt Lisle, left, with Yvonne Pickering show Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson one of three prototype system testbed Mars rovers at the Airbus Defence and Space plant in Stevenage, England Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, Pool)

The ExoMars rover will eventually dig into the Martian soil to search for alien life (Credits: AP)

‘This is where Blue Streak was going to be made in the 50s, if you remember, cancelled, wrongly, in my view,’ Johnson told reporters.

‘And now, this site that we’re in produces 25% of all the telecoms satellites in the world. And I don’t think people realise that now. What we want to do as the UK Government is give that rocket boosters, to pick a obvious metaphor and advance our our lead, extend our lead.

‘So we’ve invested considerably in the OneWeb Low Earth orbit satellite project, which offers real benefits to humanity, but also offers benefits in terms of jobs and growth around the whole of the UK.

‘Under this Government, we’ve now got two space ports, one in Newquay in Cornwall, one in Caithness, and this place Stevenage is where they’re going to be making the payloads that we hope one day will go up from those spaceports.’

What could possibly go wrong? (Credits: AP)

Airbus’ ExoMars rover is capable of drilling as deep as two metres below the surface.

Data collected by the rover when it lands on Mars will help to evaluate risks for future crewed missions as well as assist in broader studies of Martian geochemistry and environmental science.


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