Spherical Rovers Will Bounce Around Phobos Like Space Tumbleweeds

By Brent McKnight | 8 years ago

Now that the Curiosity rover is exploring the desolate surface of the Red Planet, scientists are turning their vision to the Martian moon Phobos. A team of researches from Stanford, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working on a new kind of hybrid rover robot, called hedgehogs, that will bounce across the surface of the moon like space tumbleweeds.


Spherical and covered in spikes, the hedgehogs will look something like a sea urchin, and be roughly half a meter in diameter. Gravity on Phobos is 1,000 times weaker than on Mars, and the spines will help the robots roll around. As the droids bounce from one place to another they’ll transit data back to the Phobos Surveyor—think the mother ship—where it will track and map the progress of the exploration. Several of these droids could be deployed at once to cover more ground.

Here’s why they’re going with this design instead of the more traditional rover model. Inside each hedgehog are a trio of “rotating orthogonal flywheels,” each of which points in a different way. The force of the wheels spinning in opposite directions allows the hedgehogs to move with precision while more familiar vehicle would be unstable, bouncing all over the damn place.

The hedgehogs will be able cover large stretches of ground, up to ten meters in a single bound. They will also have a more refined setting, which allows the robots to creep around gradually, and give the surroundings a closer look when necessary.

Right now this project is just in the planning stages, but if given the green light to go ahead, these missions could last up to three years. Click HERE to read more technical information on the venture.