In planetary exploration missions, robotic rovers must traverse vast and varied expanses of terrain. In most cases, the rovers have to venture into unknown regions the trafficability of which can only be estimated based on relatively sparse remote sensing data. Sometimes, the estimates are wrong and a rover gets stuck in a stretch of soft sand or another obstacle. This happened to the otherwise very successful NASA Mars rover Spirit. To avoid such accidents, planetary exploration rovers today move very carefully, covering not more than a few meters per day.


To increase travel velocities, an in-situ physical examination of the planetary surface is necessary. In FASTER (Forward Acquisition of Soil and Terrain data for Exploration Rover), a European consortium of six partners from five member states develops and demonstrates concepts for an efficient in-situ acquisition of soil and terrain properties on planetary surfaces. Core technical components of the new FASTER system are a light-weight portable soil sensor mounted on a small all-terrain scout rover.
The FASTER tools will be able to test the trafficability of the terrain on the path of a larger exploration rover (such as the MSR rover), enabling higher travel velocities and reducing the risk for the mother rover.