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On a Roll: Designing the Next Rover to Explore Mars

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posted on Jun, 4 2010 @ 02:17 AM
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The concept of a wind-powered vehicle that can be used to explore the surface of Mars -- a so-called "tumbleweed rover" that would roll over the surface of Mars like a tumbleweed -- has been around for more than 10 years, but so far there has been no consensus on exactly what that vehicle should look like.

Now researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a computer model that allows engineers to test the attributes of different vehicle designs.

This will allow researchers to select the best design characteristics before spending the time and money necessary to create prototypes for testing in real-world conditions.




The computer model developed at NC State determines how tumbleweed rover designs will function, based on their various design characteristics. For example, the model can show how a rover's diameter, elasticity and overall mass will affect its ability to navigate the Martian surface successfully.


"You can't just build hundreds of different rover designs to see what works -- it's too expensive," says Alexandre Hartl, a Ph.D. student at NC State who co-authored the paper. "This model allows us to determine which designs may be most viable. Then we can move forward to build and test the most promising candidates."


And the model doesn't just test different rover designs in a stable environment. The model is flexible enough to allow researchers to look at how various designs would perform under different wind conditions and in different terrains -- from Martian rock fields to craters and canyons. This is important, because the surface of Mars is marked by significant changes in landscape.


www.sciencedaily.com...




posted on Jun, 4 2010 @ 02:32 AM
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What kind of things would these rovers do if they get built? Would there be dozens tumbling around gathering data about wind patterns and weather conditions, sort of like in the movie twister?



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