Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Spinning spokes: Cornell scientists develop method for using rover wheels to study Martian soil by digging holes


After the twin Mars Exploration Rovers bounce onto the red planet and begin touring the Martian terrain in January, onboard spectrometers and cameras will gather data and images - and the rovers’ wheels will dig holes.

Working together, a Cornell University planetary geologist and a civil engineer have found a way to use the wheels to study the Martian soil by digging the dirt with a spinning wheel. "It’s nice to roll over geology, but every once in a while you have to pull out a shovel, dig a hole and find out what is really underneath your feet," says Robert Sullivan, senior research associate in space sciences and a planetary geology member of the Mars mission’s science team. He devised the plan with Harry Stewart, Cornell associate professor of civil engineering, and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena.

The researchers perfected a digging method to lock all but one of a rover’s wheels on the Martian surface. The remaining wheel will spin, digging the surface soil down about 5 inches, creating a crater-shaped hole that will enable the remote study of the soil’s stratigraphy and an analysis of whether water once existed. For controllers at JPL, the process will involve complicated maneuvers -- a "rover ballet," according to Sullivan -- before and after each hole is dug to coordinate and optimize science investigations of each hole and its tailings pile.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA’s Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Cornell, in Ithaca, N.Y., is managing the science suite of instruments carried by the two rovers.

Each rover has a set of six wheels carved from aluminum blocks, and inside each wheel hub is a motor. To spin a wheel independently, JPL operators will simply switch off the other five wheel motors. Sullivan, Stewart and Cornell undergraduates Lindsey Brock and Craig Weinstein used Cornell’s Takeo Mogami Geotechnical Laboratory to examine various soil strengths and characteristics. They also used Cornell’s George Winter Civil Infrastructure Laboratory to test the interaction of a rover wheel with the soil. Each rover wheel has spokes arranged in a spiral pattern, with strong foam rubber between the spokes; these features will help the rover wheels function as shock absorbers while rolling over rough terrain on Mars.

In November, Sullivan used JPL’s Martian terrain proving ground to collect data on how a rover wheel interacts with different soil types and loose sand. He used yellow, pink and green sand -- dyed with food coloring and baked by Brock. Sullivan used a stack of large picture frames to layer the different colored sands to observe how a wheel churned out sloping tailings piles and where the yellow, pink and green sand finally landed. "Locations where the deepest colors were concentrated on the surface suggest where analysis might be concentrated when the maneuver is repeated for real on Mars," he says.

Stewart notes similarities between these tests and those for the lunar-landing missions in the late-1960s, when engineers needed to know the physical characteristics of the moon’s surface. Back then, geologists relied on visual observations from scouting missions to determine if the lunar lander would sink or kick up dust, or whether the lunar surface was dense or powdery.

"Like the early lunar missions, we’ll be doing the same thing, only this time examining the characteristics of the Martian soil," Stewart says. "We’ll be exposing fresh material to learn the mineralogy and composition."

Blaine P. Friedlander Jr. | Cornell News
Further information:

More articles from Interdisciplinary Research:

nachricht Scientists develop new tool for imprinting biochips
09.03.2018 | Advanced Science Research Center, GC/CUNY

nachricht Combating sulphuric acid corrosion at wastewater plants: Graz scientists develop new solution
23.02.2018 | Technische Universität Graz

All articles from Interdisciplinary Research >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>