So what is MURFI? MURFI is the “Mars Utah Rover Field Investigation”. It’s a joint UK Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency project in which we will operate a Mars Rover test platform in Utah, while controlling the Rover and its scientific instruments from the Mars Operations Centre or MOC (we just love those acronyms!) back in the UK. The MOC is on the Harwell Campus, near Oxford.
Why are we doing it? There are lots of reasons why Rover trials are useful (see the about page), but the main reason is that they provide informative, safe and cost-effective ways for scientists and engineers to gain experience ready for real planetary missions. The MURFI mission is designed mainly to help the UK team gain experience ready for the ExoMars 2020 Rover – an ESA mission that will drill down into the martian surface to look for signs of ancient life.
Who’s involved? The MURFI team is split into two groups, the Field team, who will be in Utah, looking after the Rover and its instruments and pretending they are on Mars, and the Operations team, who will be sitting in the MOC, pretending that what they are looking at is data from Mars. As you can see from the Team page, there are a lot of people involved, from several Universities and organisations. Importantly, MURFI is a “blind” simulation – the Operations team in the MOC won’t be allowed to talk to the Field team, or know anything about the local environment, or even where the Rover is situated. All they will know is what they can glean from the data the Rover returns, and from “Mars-like” satellite images they’ve already acquired.
When’s it happening? The main MURFI mission kicks off next week, 31st October, with a variety of practise runs followed by a formal 8-10 day simulation mission starting on the 3rd November. The final week we’ll be closing the MOC, and doing joint operations with the Canadian Space Agency. We’ll be keeping this blog updated with posts from both the field team in Utah and the Operations team in Harwell, so stay tuned.
— Matt Balme, Mission Scientist – Harwell
Matt Balme, MURFI Mission Scientist and Helen Walker, Mission Manager at the Harwell MOC.