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See how a stunt-double Mars rover escapes a sand trap

ESA's ExoMars rover won't let a little sand stop it in its tracks.

The ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover is scheduled to head to Mars in 2022.

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

Anakin Skywalker wouldn't like Mars much: "I don't like sand. It's course, rough and irritating and it gets everywhere." Mars rovers probably feel much the same way. The European Space Agency, or ESA, has designed its ExoMars rover to conquer the Martian sand problem. A new video shows how.

The Rosalind Franklin rover (here's how it got its name) is scheduled to launch in 2022. It has a twin that's used for testing out how the Mars rover will react to and perform on the red planet. The video shows the stunt-double rover with its forward wheels stuck in sand. It uses a clever wheel-walking method to escape.

"Similar to leg movements, wheel-walking combines motions of the deployment actuators (the legs) with the rotation of the wheels to progress without slippage," ESA said in a statement Friday. "This motion gives very good traction in soft soils and high slopes, such as dunes."

The doppelganger rover performed the sand test at the Mars Terrain Simulator at the Thales Alenia Space facilities in Italy. The rover team has also tested the machine's ability to drill deep into Mars as it hunts for signs of past and present microbial life.

Sand traps are a real danger to rovers on Mars. NASA's Spirit rover got caught in sand in 2009 and never broke free. The Opportunity rover -- which eventually succumbed to a dust storm -- spent over a month ensnared in sand in 2005.

If Rosalind Franklin launches as expected, it'll reach Mars in mid-2023 and could put its traveling skills to the test on the tough Martian terrain. Said ExoMars rover operations manager Luc Joudrier, "We hope to never need to use wheel walking on Mars to escape dangerous sand traps, but we are glad to have such functionality to potentially safeguard the mission."