The Anon rover was built for Mars, but its interplanetary mission got derailed. The car-sized robot is now undergoing tests at a quarry near London in hopes that it could one day go to the Moon instead.
Over the past two weeks, Airbus has been testing its sample fetch rover in a quarry near Milton Keynes in the U.K., which nicely simulates alien environments. The developing team is hoping that the rover might eventually explore and work on the Moon, The Guardian reported.
The Mars Sample Fetch Rover, also known as Anon, was built by European aerospace company Airbus, and it’s designed to collect sample tubes left behind by NASA’s Perseverance rover, which has been roaming the Red Planet since February 2021. Earlier this year, however, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced a change of plans for its Mars Sample Return mission, which seeks to return samples to Earth next decade. Instead of using the sample fetch rover, NASA wants Perseverance to transfer the sample tubes to a lander that will be waiting nearby. The space agency also wants to send two Ingenuity-class helicopters to Jezero Crater to scoop up the sample tubes and deliver them to the vicinity of the lander.
The abrupt change in plans meant that Europe’s rover lost its ticket to Mars. That said, Anon’s developers, which have been working on the rover for the past four years, aren’t giving up on this little guy just yet and continue to run tests of the rover’s systems. “Even though the mission may have faded away, the core technology is still ready and able to go and this is the kind of the final step in proving that it works,” Ben Dobke, a project manager at Airbus, told The Guardian.
Instead of Mars, Anon could be headed to the Moon’s surface as part of NASA’s Artemis program, which seeks a sustained and sustainable presence in the lunar environment. The rover won’t collect sample tubes on the Moon, but it could be used for other purposes, such as helping to build lunar habitats.
The rover will need some tweaking for a Moon mission, otherwise it won’t survive the colder temperatures and the total lack of atmosphere. Anon will also have to be adjusted such that it can recover from the long nights on the Moon, which last for 14 days, thereby placing it in total darkness for extended periods, according to The Guardian. Anon does not yet have a ticket to the Moon, but its developers want to be ready should the opportunity emerge.
Anon is the second European-built Martian rover to miss out on its chance to visit the Red Planet. ESA’s ExoMars rover was supposed to launch this year, but the space agency suspended the joint mission with Russian space agency Roscosmos following the invasion of Ukraine. The two rovers are currently awaiting their new fate, but both seem ready for some celestial exploring.
More: The Perseverance Rover Finally Got Its First Martian Rock Sample, For Real This Time