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  1. ITV Report

Ground control to Major Tim: Brit astronaut to pilot Rover from space

£946m
Cost of the European and Russian ExoMars Mission.

A Mars Rover - designed and built in Stevenage - is undergoing final testing ahead of a special experiment next month.

Bruno belongs to a "family" of three rover prototypes - the others are named Bridget and Bryan - which are testing the last word in planetary navigation technology.

They've been built by Airbus Defence and Space in the town.

In two years time a so far nameless six-wheeled machine with a "brain" similar to Bruno's will be launched to the Red Planet.

There it will look for signs of life in soil samples from six feet below the arid Martian surface and take breathtaking colour images of the surrounding landscape.

Bruno Mars Credit: ITV News Anglia

"One of the challenges of going to Mars is that it's so far away in terms of the time it takes radio signals to go there and back - around 40 minutes.

"It's not possible to drive this sort of machine with a joystick. You'll crash it. So this rover is designed to be semi-autonomous. 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 Ralph Cordey
2cm/sec
Top speed on 'Bruno' Mars Rover

As the ExoMars orbiter hurtles towards Mars at 20,500mph (33,000kph) after its launch on March 14, scientists and engineers are gearing up to start work on the rover that will go into space.

The rover has one navigational weakness, however - it can get confused by shadows.

"There are caves on Mars and craters that cast long shadows. To explore those areas, it's more efficient to have a human in the loop."

– Jeremy Close, Airbus Defence & Space
Tim Peake hosting a live Q&A Credit: PA

Next month British astronaut Major Tim Peake, orbiting the Earth as part of the crew of the International Space Station will take part in a pioneering experiment that will see him operate Bruno remotely from space.

Major Peake will be asked to drive the rover into a "cave" - simulated by plunging half the Mars sandpit into darkness.

Steering the machine through a barrier raised across the 30 metres (98ft) by 13 metres (42ft) testing area, he will seek out targets marked with an "X".

-130c
Lowest temperatures on Mars

Click below to watch Claire McGlasson's report from the original unveiling of the Rover back in 2012.