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Rolling, hopping robots explore Earthly analogs of distant planets


Earlier than we ship any planet-trotting robotic to discover the panorama of Mars or Venus, we have to take a look at it right here on Earth. Two such robotic platforms being developed for future missions are present process testing at European Area Company amenities: one which rolls, and one which hops.

The rolling one is definitely on the books to move to the Pink Planet as a part of the ESA’s Mars 2020 program. It’s just wrapped a week of testing in the Spanish desert, simply one among many Mars analogs the area program makes use of. It seems to be good. The gravity’s somewhat completely different, in fact, and there’s a bit extra environment, but it surely’s shut sufficient to check a couple of issues.

The group controlling Charlie, which is what they named the prototype, was doing so from tons of of miles away, within the U.Okay. — not fairly an interplanetary distance, however they did in fact suppose to simulate the delay operators would encounter if the rover had been truly on Mars. It could even have a ton extra devices on board.

Exploration and navigation was nonetheless completed solely utilizing data collected by the rover through radar and cameras, and the rover’s drill was additionally put to work. It rained sooner or later, which is very unlikely to occur on Mars, however the operators presumably pretended it was a mud storm and rolled with it.

One other Earth-analog take a look at is scheduled for February in Chile’s Atacama desert. You may be taught extra concerning the ExoMars rover and the Mars 2020 mission here.

The opposite robotic that the ESA publicized this week isn’t theirs however was developed by ETH Zurich: the SpaceBok —  you already know, like springbok. The researchers there suppose that hopping round like that well-known ungulate could possibly be a great way to get round on different planets.

It’s good to roll round on steady wheels, positive, but it surely’s no use once you need to get to the far aspect of some boulder or descend right into a ravine to take a look at an fascinating mineral deposit. SpaceBok is supposed to be a extremely steady leaping machine that may traverse tough terrain or stroll with a standard quadrupedal gait as wanted (effectively, regular for robots).

“This isn’t significantly helpful on Earth,” admits SpaceBok group member Elias Hampp, however “it might attain a top of 4 meters on the Moon. This could permit for a quick and environment friendly means of shifting ahead.”

It was doing some testing at the ESA’s “Mars Yard sandbox,” somewhat pen stuffed with Mars-like soil and rocks. The group is trying into enhancing autonomy with higher imaginative and prescient — the higher it could possibly see the place it lands, the higher SpaceBok can stick that touchdown.

Interplanetary missions are very a lot in vogue now, and we could quickly even see some non-public journeys to the Moon and Mars. So even when NASA or the ESA doesn’t resolve to take SpaceBok (or some equally artistic robotic) out into the photo voltaic system, maybe a beneficiant sponsor will.



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