NASA goes medieval! Over the past few years, NASA has made their rovers to look friendly and acceptable to human eyes. For example, the Mars Rover Curiosity almost looks like Pixar’s Wall-E. But NASA’s new design for an upcoming rover has a more medieval look, as it resembles a spiked battle mace.
Engineers and scientists from Stanford, MIT, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have designed new rovers called Phobos Surveyors, nicknamed “hedgehogs.” This rover will explore the Martian Moon of Phobos in the near future. The rover would deploy one or more mace-like ball rovers from its mothership, which will remain in orbit around the moon. It will have the ability to launch and leap across the moon’s surface to collect data and explore.
These “hedgehogs” or “hoppers” will be more equipped to handle harsh terrain, canyons, and other hazardous areas than traditional Mars rovers. NASA engineers believe the Phobos Surveyor will handle the Phobos Moon with ease, as it will be tougher for it to face problems like getting a stuck wheel, which has been a huge problem with Mars rovers in the past.
Since the Phobos Moon’s gravity is weaker than Mars’ – the moon’s gravitational pull is about 1000 times weaker – the surveyor can easily tumble around its surface as it maps the moon’s terrain. Over the months of the expedition, the Phobos Surveyor would deploy about five or six “hedgehogs,” one at a time and a few days apart. Once on the Phobos surface, the spiked-balls will be able to communicate with each other to collect data.
The hedgehogs will have the ability to spin and move because each one is equipped with three discs that can rotate at all three axes. Once its spikes are deployed, it can balance and stabilize on any Martian surface, whether it is solid and stony or soft and sandy.
Currently, the Stanford team is testing Phobos Surveyor prototypes using rocks, dirt, and baking flour to simulate asteroid dust. A crane will be used to re-create low and weak gravity during the simulations and testing. Let’s hope NASA will use these spinning spike balls for good and not evil.