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An innovative drone technology can explore hidden spaces. The European Space Agency (ESA) has been testing equipment, techniques and working methods for missions with astronauts in inner space for many years. Delving inside Earth and exploring caves often parallels the exploration of outer space, from a lack of sunlight to working in cramped spaces and relying on equipment for safety.

Recently, an ESA astronaut helped to explore the caverns under Sicily using a drone that deliberately bumped into its surroundings in order to build a map.

According to ESA website, the astronaut took geological samples and tried a new way of probing hard-to-reach spaces: a drone developed by Flyability deliberately bumped into walls to learn how to navigate and to map tight areas that are too dangerous for humans.

Elios, the world’s first collision tolerant drone designed for industrial inspection can capture quality images form the most confined spaces.

An extension of ESA’s Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills course, this CAVES-X1 expedition deployed in the La Cucchiara caves, Sicily. The team spent two days exploring the area, which includes a 100 m-deep abyss. As this cave reaches 37°C, the explorers also tried out cooling vests – another similarity to astronauts in spacesuits.

ESA’s course coordinator, Francesco Sauro, an experienced caver and field geologist, remarks: “The drone used its thermal camera to map how the cave continued all the way to an unexplored area featuring water, impossible to reach for humans.

“These tests will help us understand which technologies can be used in future exploration of lava tubes on Mars, for example.”

ESA’s strategy sees humans and robots working together to explore and build settlements on planetary bodies, as well as improving our understanding of our origins, and the origins of life in our Solar System.