‘Hopping’ bot to explore Moon valleys, hilltops by firing rocket nozzles

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

WASHINGTON - Engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Charles Stark Draper laboratory in Cambridge, Mass., are developing a new robot rover that would move on the Moon by firing downward and sideways-facing rocket nozzles.

Current stationary landers or slow-moving rovers have been trudging along due to the rough terrain of surfaces on Moon or planets like Mars.

“Rovers can’t cover great distances because of the terrain,” Discovery News quoted Seamus Tuohy at the Draper laboratory as saying.

“Scientists told us they’d like to get a picture of a planet on a regional scale. They’d also like to get to places that a rover can’t get to … into valleys, on the top of a hill.”

The teams together are developing Talaris, the Terrestrial Autonomous Lunar Reduced Gravity System, a prototype robot.

Talaris would use chemical rocket thrusters to launch itself off a planetary surface, hover, fly to a new location and gently lower itself to the ground again.

“We do this on Earth all the time-we call it a ‘helicopter,’” Tuohy said.

And to simulate the gravity of such planets on Earth, the team designed a prototype with ducted fans, powered by cold gas jets.

“We believe that once we demonstrate that hopping is possible, others will fall in line and say ‘Yes, this is how we should do future science missions,’” said Bobby Cohanim, the project’s technical leader.

“It might take days for a rover to go 500 meters. A hopper can do it in minutes-or seconds depending on how fast you want to traverse,” Cohanim said.

The disadvantage of a hopper is that it needs chemicals to power their thrusters.

“Eventually you’re going to run out of fuel,” said Jeffrey Hoffman, a former shuttle astronaut and professor of astronautics at MIT.

However, scientists and engineers are working ways to manufacture propellants indigenously from resources on planetary bodies. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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