Tumbleweed Rovers for Mars
“We wanted a way to determine how different tumbleweed rover designs would behave under the various conditions that may be faced on the Martian surface,” says Dr. Andre Mazzoleni, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. “The model that we’ve developed is important, because it will help NASA [the National Aeronautics and Space Administration] make informed decisions about the final design characteristics of any tumbleweed rovers it ultimately sends to Mars.”
The computer model developed at NC State determines how tumbleweed rover designs will function, based on their various design characteristics. For example, the model can show how a rover’s diameter, elasticity and overall mass will affect its ability to navigate the Martian surface successfully.
“You can’t just build hundreds of different rover designs to see what works – it’s too expensive,” says Alexandre Hartl, a Ph.D. student at NC State who co-authored the paper. “This model allows us to determine which designs may be most viable. Then we can move forward to build and test the most promising candidates.”
And the model doesn’t just test different rover designs in a stable environment. The model is flexible enough to allow researchers to look at how various designs would perform under different wind conditions and in different terrains – from Martian rock fields to craters and canyons. This is important, because the surface of Mars is marked by significant changes in landscape.
The research, “Dynamic Modeling of a Wind-Driven Tumbleweed Rover Including Atmospheric Effects,” was funded by NASA and the North Carolina Space Grant Consortium. The paper was published online June 1 by the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets.