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ScienceSpace

Wind-Driven Mars 'Tumbleweed' Rover Being Developed

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New research from North Carolina State University has shown the ‘tumbleweed’ Mars rover design to be an effective one.

“There is quite a bit of interest within NASA to pursue the tumbleweed rover design, but one of the questions regarding the concept is how it might perform on the rocky surface of Mars,” says Dr. Andre Mazzoleni, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering (MAE) at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. “We set out to address that question.”

The researchers developed a computer model to test how the different potential sizes of the rover would affect its likelihood to get stuck in rock fields, and its speed. There’s an average of one rock per every square meter on Mars.

20120523-130203.jpg “We found that, in general, the larger the diameter, and the lower the overall weight, the better the rover performs,” Mazzoleni says.

The study found that the rover would need a diameter of at least six meters in order to achieve acceptable levels of performance. Otherwise, the rover would be likely to get stuck in rock fields.

The model also found that the rover would likely bounce around, rather than roll across the terrain.

“Computer simulations are crucial for designing Mars rovers because the only place where you find Martian conditions is on Mars,” says Mazzoleni. “Earth-based testing alone cannot establish whether a particular design will work on Mars.”

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The Earth has more than twice the gravity of Mars, and an atmospheric density much higher.

The tumbleweed design is being considered because it can travel much farther distances and handle much rougher terrain than current models of rovers. They also would not require a power supply for movement, potentially allowing for a much longer lifespan.

“This model is a tool NASA can use to assess the viability of different designs before devoting the time and expense necessary to build prototypes,” Mazzoleni says.

Source: North Carolina State University
Image Credits: NC State, NASA




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