Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

MIT team envisions exploring Mars with mini probes

19.07.2006
MIT engineers and scientist colleagues have a new vision for the future of Mars exploration: a swarm of probes, each the size of a baseball, spreading out across the planet in every direction.

Thousands of probes, powered by fuel cells, could cover a vast area now beyond the reach of today's rovers, including exploring remote and rocky terrain that large rovers cannot navigate.

"They would start to hop, bounce and roll and distribute themselves across the surface of the planet, exploring as they go, taking scientific data samples," said Steven Dubowsky, the MIT professor of mechanical engineering who is leading the research team.

Dubowsky's team plans to test prototypes on Earth this fall and estimates that a trip to Mars is about 10 years away. He is now working with Penelope Boston, director of the cave research program at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, to create probes that can handle the rough terrain of Mars.

Scientists believe that lava tubes commonly seen on Mars are a promising location to search for signs of water. Lava tubes are tunnels left behind by underground lava flows. Signs of these tubes, which are also present in many locations on Earth, can be seen above ground.

The tubes could be entered through holes that formed on the Mars surface where sections of the tubes have collapsed, but these formations are too treacherous for today's rovers to explore. However, tiny bouncing probes could make their way inside the caves.

Mars also features canyons that could have once had rivers flowing through them. The canyons, too, are inaccessible to rovers, but small probes might be able to make their way down the canyon faces.

One of the major advantages of the mini probes is that losing a few out of hundreds or thousands of probes sent into a treacherous area would not derail the overall mission, Dubowsky said. "You would certainly be willing to sacrifice some of these 1,000 balls" to gather information from remote areas, he said.

Each probe would weigh about 100 grams (4 ounces) and would carry its own tiny fuel cell. "You could hop for a long, long time on a few grams of fuel," Dubowsky said.

Artificial muscles inside the probes could make them hop an average of six times per hour, with a maximum rate of 60 hops per hour. The devices would travel about 1.5 meters per hop; they can also bounce or roll. In 30 days, a swarm of probes could cover 50 square miles, according to Dubowsky.

Each probe would carry different types of sensors, including cameras and environmental sensors. The probes are made of durable and lightweight plastic that could withstand the rigors of Mars travel and the extreme cold. Their fuel cells will provide enough heat to keep their electronics and sensors operable.

One thousand of the probes would have the same volume and weight as the Spirit rover. "For the weight and size of Spirit you could certainly send more than 1,000 of these sensors up there, which would have much greater capability," Dubowsky said.

The probes would be able to communicate with nearby probes through a local area network (LAN). Data would be sent to a base station that would transmit information back to Earth.

Other possible applications for the small robots include search and rescue missions in collapsed buildings or other dangerous sites, and counter-terrorist activities (searching for terrorists in caves).

Last year, the researchers got funding from the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC). The NIAC grant is meant to help move the project from the concept stage to the prototype stage.

Other collaborators on the project include Jean-Sebastien Plante, a postdoctoral researcher in MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Fritz Prinz and Mark Cutkowsky of Stanford University.

Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

nachricht New survey hints at exotic origin for the Cold Spot
26.04.2017 | Royal Astronomical Society

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli

26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>