Space technology tested at Fiat Panda to Asia

Activation and support

June 20, 2022
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Two ESA engineers offer a unique testbed for new space technologies. The used 20-year-old Fiat Panda will travel 16000km to compete in the Mongolian Rally from Europe to the Mongolian steppes in the summer of 2023. Already in a panda raid race to Mongolia, the “space2ground” team plans to run onboard tests in the process of a spectacular Asian drive.

Cesar Bernal and Javier Fernandez during the panda raid

“Once we decided to do this, we wanted to add some value and perform support tests for various space activities,” said a small satellite specialist working at the ESTA’s ESTEC Technology Center in the Netherlands. Cesar Bernal says. “We love space and everyday work, so we are currently in contact with various ESA projects about the work we may do to help them.”

Javier Fernandez, a software engineer also based in ESTEC, adds: To date, many of ESA’s Galileo ground receiver tests have been performed within very narrow geographic margins, such as tens of kilometers between ESTEC and nearby Rotterdam. Travel through a wide variety of landscapes, from the built-up urban center to the more isolated mountainous and desert areas to low latitudes. “

Aerial view of the sand dunes of ESA’s ESTEC Technical Center

Another suggestion is to carefully take georeferenced soil samples along the route. The Mongolian Rally has no defined course, only a start and an end, acts as a calibration resource for ESA’s earth observation satellites, and provides a “ground truth” to check it. What the cosmic instrument shows is what is actually there.

Cesar explains: General robustness. In addition, we are discussing with “Internet of Things” service providers and using satellite technology to track the location and status of our hardware. In this case, it may contain telemetry of the car you are driving or images of your daily trip. “

Sahara’s Fiat Panda

The pair purchased Fiat Panda to participate in the annual Panda Raid in October 2021. This is a 3000km annual rally through the Sahara Desert finishing in Marrakech reserved for the 1st generation 4×2 and 4×4 Fiat Panda.

“The car we bought had a watch of 28,000 km and was very happy,” says Javier. “This is a two-wheel drive vehicle, which costs more to convert than getting a 4×4 version. It has a less than 1 liter engine that is part of the Mongolian rally requirements.”

Galileo satellite

“Because we are both members of the ESTEC car club in the field, we have talked to people who have attended these meetings before and have done a lot of work using the facility. For example, we installed a snorkel to clean the engine intake instead of dusty air, inserted a seal to prevent dust, and added a new wheel with spacers to increase clearance. I learned and worked at the last minute until I left for Panda Raid. “

Cesar recalls that the highlight of the approximately two-week rally was a 3,000-kilometer drive through the Sahara Desert in Morocco. Completely surrounded by towering dunes, I noticed that I couldn’t see other cars and lost my way several times. We weren’t really ourselves because the organizers were tracking us remotely, but the problem was that we accidentally crossed the border to Algeria so that family and friends could see your whereabouts. It may have caused it. The Mongolian Rally will be very different in those respects. “

Cross the desert

Javier said: fan. “

The space2ground team supported the ESA Humanitarian Fund during their participation in the Panda Raid, promoted it to vehicles, and sold local crafts back for sale.

Scheduled for the summer of 2023, the Mongolia Rally is said to be the world’s largest road trip across the most vacant areas of the globe, including Tajikistan’s 4,000 m high pass. “It will be very rewarding and very fun, but we aim to be fun and useful and we are collecting money for charity and space technology testing,” Cesar concludes. ..

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