Its solar panels are dusty and its instruments are weakening, but the intrepid Mars rover Opportunity is still undaunted. Today marks the rover’s eighth anniversary on the Red Planet, truly a feat for a mission that was designed to last a single season. As the rover embarks on its ninth year of work, it has some brand-new tasks that will give Mars scientists plenty to do long after it has beeped its last transmission home.
Next-generation Mars rovers might not need solar panels or plutonium packs for juice — they’ll bring microbes with them to use in fuel cells. The Naval Research Laboratory is working on potential fuel cell designs that will provide lasting power via the reproductive cycle of bacteria astronauts.
By Victor Youk,18, MIT freshman, as told to Ryan BradleyPosted 08.15.2011 at 10:14 am 3 Comments
Usually high-school rocket clubs launch an egg and try to have it land safely. But our teacher suggested that we do something harder: enter a competition to build a Mars rover that could be deployed from a rocket. A few of us started working on it. The goal was to launch a robot 1,000 feet in the air, have it land safely on the ground, and then drive it about 30 feet. But the robot had to fit inside a rocket that was just four inches in diameter and 20 inches long—it looked like a stick.
A Chinese official kicked off an international robotics conference in Shanghai this week by confirming China plans to send a robot to the moon within two years and aims to bring a lunar sample home by 2017.
Like brunch plans dashed when it turns out someone in the party has lost his wallet, the ESA’s and NASA’s best laid plans to take a trip to Mars together in 2018 could be ruined. A joint Mars exploration mission planned by both space agencies could be put on hold or even scrapped altogether because America can’t afford to pay its share of the tab.
Engineering professors at McGill University have constructed a new type of wheel, designed for the moon but inspired by the humble beanbag chair. These wheels allow a rover to climb objects taller than the wheel's diameter, as well as functioning as impressive shock absorbers for traversing difficult terrain--great news for those disgusted with the slow pace of the "pave the moon" movement.
We owe a lot to our wheeled rovers. Opportunity has contributed reams of data concerning the geology of Mars, while Spirit has found possible evidence of past water there. But Spirit is stuck in the sand while Opportunity lumbers slowly toward Endeavor crater at a top speed of 2 inches per second. A team of MIT researchers thinks we can do better, and to prove it they are developing a new kind of planetary explorer that hops, rather that rolls, across a planet's surface.
On Saturday, June 5, in the remote southeast Utah desert, a team of engineering students from Oregon State University emerged as the champion of the fourth annual University Rover Challenge (URC).
Competition events began on Friday morning, June 4, at two adjacent sites near the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah. The "sample return mission" involved investigating sites that might have microbial life and bringing back a sample. At the second site, the "equipment servicing task" required rovers to flip switches, push buttons, and insert plugs into outlets.
James Cameron's love of science and high-tech cameras has previously shone through with his undersea documentaries -- not to mention Titanic or even Avatar. Now the film director is playing "public engagement co-investigator" on NASA's upcoming SUV-sized rover mission, which will carry full-color digital cameras and zoom lenses -- but it's a race to complete the lenses in time for the mission's 2011 launch.