Traditional wheeled rovers might be cast aside for a few specific missions, and NASA’s Hedgehog rover will explore the universe instead, due to its unique capabilities of hopping and tumbling around the rough terrain in microgravity.
The international space agency certainly seems to have learned from past mistakes, and are taking precautions that failed missions will not occur again. World news boomed with reports when the European Rosetta mission has seen their Philae lander find less-than-adequate results on Comet 67P due to a failing system.
While it touched down successfully, Philae was found with a huge glitch that had its harpoon system unable to latch on upon contact, which sent the rover back flying. When it landed back on the comet, it was caught underneath the cliff with no possibility of moving or providing any potential useful information.
The problem was that small space objects, such as comets or asteroids, have a very low gravity that causes the slightest push to all but destroy a mission that has been heavily funded and planned for years. One wrong move and it could turn even the more performing robots, such as the Mars rover, upside down and virtually useless.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) has partnered up with both Stanford University and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in order to develop their newest project that would hopefully make such problems a thing of the past. The new cube-shaped bot is named “Hedgehog” and it has been purposefully designed to withstand the rough conditions of comets or asteroids.
According to the leader of the JPL team, Isaac Nesnas, Hedgehog would prove its flawless ability of travel through its capabilities of hopping and tumbling around the challenging conditions in microgravity. And, unlike its wheeled counterparts, the rover will be able to operate no matter on which side it lands.
Furthermore, a technique dubbed “tornado” will make it spin out of disrupting places it may fall into, a possible shout out to the aforementioned rover who has unfortunately landed in an unusable position and in an inconvenient place.
There is no up or down, just six different faces which will feature the same capabilities of research. The addition on each of its corners will help it successfully navigate, by spinning and braking with the help of three internal flywheels. According to Stanford team leader, Marco Pavone, by controlling the flywheels, scientists can control its hopping angle.
The two prototypes currently in testing feature either blunt corners or leg-like spikes that could find a dual use in collecting samples from the surface of comets and asteroids. Both have seen excellent results and promise to be successful outer space travelers.
Image source: gizmag.com