A robotic rover designed and built in Britain has been undergoing tests this week to prepare for a mission on Mars.
The testing is taking place in the Atacama Desert, the closest martian-like environment on Earth.
The six-wheeled robot, named Bridget, was designed by the UK wing of aerospace giant Astrium at Stevenage to help prepare for the European Space Agency's ExoMars mission.
After years of tests and preparations in the laboratory and local sandpits, the rover prototype was sent to Chile where the red desert bears similarity to images sent back of the landscape on Mars.
The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth and has few man-made features such as roads and buildings. This makes it a perfect testbed for the rover. This week's trials, due to last seven days, were dubbed SAFER (Sample Acquisition Field Experiment with a Rover) and are being carried out close to the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory.
The final ExoMars rover will be able to move faster and select its own route to the next point of interest, making best use of the terrain.
As Bridget makes its first tracks in the sand in Chile, parallel testing is taking place from the UK's remote control centre based at the Satellite Applications Catapult Centre in Harwell.
ESA got together an international industrial team to work with Bridget in Chile and so gain experience in operating a rover equipped with three of the scientific instruments that will fly on ExoMars. They include participants from ESA, the UK Space Agency, RAL Space, SCISYS, Astrium, Space-X, LATMOS, Joanneum Research, UCL, Aberystwyth University, University of Leicester, and Satellite Applications Catapult, Harwell.
SAFER is assessing the effectiveness of the mission's rock outcrop search instrumentation, mimicking techniques that will be used on Mars to search for outcrops and then acquire samples of sand and rock.
On Tuesday, the three ExoMars instruments were fitted to Bridget. A panoramic camera called PanCam provides stereo 3D terrain imagery, the close-up camera gives high-resolution imaging, and the radar peers through soil for a detailed 3D view of the shallow subsurface.
The scientific instruments used in the tests are designed to help search for the best places to drill down to collect samples from beneath the surface of Mars. Sheltered from surface radiation and harsh oxidising chemicals, these are the samples that might contain signs of past or present life.