Science Minister Jo Johnson has landed on "Mars" as British astronaut Tim Peake prepares to steer a robot rover while orbiting the Earth.
Major Peake will remotely navigate the explorer through a simulated Martian landscape from the International Space Station.
Johnson, speaking at a hangar at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, which is built to resemble the red planet, said it was "great to be here on Mars, or at least the Mars yard", adding: "It's an exciting day for Tim Peake and everyone in our country."
The minister went on: "We'll soon have the first European vehicle on Mars and it's going to be made here in Stevenage, helping secure 4,000 jobs in the European space centre through Airbus here in the UK. It is a tremendous boost to our space sector for which we have very big ambitions as a Government."
Peake is also carrying out a series of experiments on himself to help scientists understand the impact of space flight on the human body and assist with future missions to Mars.
Peake blasted into space last December and into the record books the following month after becoming the first British person to walk in space. Since arriving on the International Space Station, the former Army officer has sent a number of video messages back to Earth and last week ran the London Marathon using an on-board treadmill.