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Mars NASA Robotics Space Science

Could the Tumbleweed Rover Dominate Mars? 105

astroengine writes "Mars has been visited by orbiters, landers and rovers, but could the future of Martian exploration be inspired by a wind-blown sphere? NASA and other research institutions have been developing the Mars Tumbleweed rover for the last decade, but with the help of the Planetary Science Institute, the Tumbleweed is now vying for some serious funding to further develop the technologies required. Although the Tumbleweed would be wholly dependent on the prevailing winds on the Martian surface, the lightweight and relatively cheap design could lead the way for a 'swarm' of independent Tumbleweeds to explore vast regions of the planet (video link). In 2003 and 2004, NASA even tested an inflatable Tumbleweed prototype on Greenland and Antarctica — it traversed hundreds of miles with ease, continually relaying location and environmental data."
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Could the Tumbleweed Rover Dominate Mars?

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  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @05:13AM (#31379600) Journal

    I'm sure they've thought about this, but is the atmosphere really dense enough to push something carrying any sort of payload around? I think atmospheric pressure is less than 1% of earth's whereas gravity is still 1/2 that of earth's. Will it have a "pump" for slow leaks? Self sealing against punctures?

    On the other hand, if it really is light enough and the "fabric" is tough and heat resistant, maybe it can deorbit WITHOUT using a heat shield. Now that would really save a LOT of weight and might make the whole idea worthwhile. I seem to remember there were once emergency escape plans for astronauts that essentially had them envelope themselves in a (very) large foam shield. If you make it light and fluffy enough it might "float" down from space. (Or glide down in the case of the paper(!) airplane that a japanese astronaut at the ISS flew back to earth).

    Just curious.

  • Re:Two problems (Score:4, Interesting)

    by onion2k ( 203094 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @05:32AM (#31379658) Homepage

    In reverse order... The second problem is relatively easy to overcome simply by nature of the tumbleweed rover's size and shape. If it's big enough not to fall between the sorts of rocks on Mars' surface, and it has no protrusions to snag on things, then it won't get stuck.

    The first problem is really about the nature of the mission. The idea of a tumbleweed rover is to gather large datasets about large areas, it's not designed to examine small, interesting things. It's rather like saying Google Earth isn't the right tool to see what beetles are living under the rocks in my garden. True, it's not, but neither is it supposed to be.

  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Saturday March 06, 2010 @05:47AM (#31379698) Homepage Journal

    I'm not even going to bash you cause I've seen so much of these kinds of snarky comments lately that I've come to expect them. But if you could be so kind, could you please tell me where you're getting your opinion from? I mean, I assume you're not actually a worker in Florida or Alabama who has a vested interest in extending the killed-14-but-plenty-left Shuttle or pretending that Canstellation was ever going anywhere, so obviously some pundit somewhere has filled your head with this baffling opinion so who was it? Was it Dr. Harrison Schmitt speaking at the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition in Florida (what the hell kind of a platform is that anyway?) with his absurd comments about China and Russia - the comments about Russia being more absurd than the ones about China but only slightly - which basically amounted to "reds up the beds and now in space!!" Or was it Andy Pasztor at the Wall Street Journal who has done nothing but demonstrate just how long journalism has sunk to, misrepresenting first Burt Rutan's comments - causing Burt to publish his communications in full and with not even an apology from the WSJ - and then misrepresenting an internal NASA memo and blatantly fabricating quotes saying Bolden was seeing a "Plan B" prompting Bolden to release a denial.. and again, without even an apology from the WSJ. Ironically, one place you couldn't be getting this nonsense from is Fox News...

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @06:48AM (#31379862) Homepage Journal

    I'm sure they've thought about this, but is the atmosphere really dense enough to push something carrying any sort of payload around? I think atmospheric pressure is less than 1% of earth's whereas gravity is still 1/2 that of earth's.

    Gravity is 38% of gravity on Earth. Atmospheric pressure is at most 1% of the pressure on Earth. But the funny thing is that it would be technically possible to land a winged aircraft on Mars. Wing loading would be low and landing speed would be high. Part of the reason is that carbon dioxide is quite a bit denser than nitrogen. So while the pressure is low, the density is not so low.

  • by bcmm ( 768152 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @07:08AM (#31379892)

    But the funny thing is that it would be technically possible to land a winged aircraft on Mars.

    I seem to recall reading something interesting about that several years ago - it claimed that a Martian aircraft would have to look pretty interesting - due to the lower density of the atmosphere and the lower speed of sound, a prop-driven fixed-wing or helicopter would have to break the sound barrier with the tip of its blades, which is a little impractical.

    P.S. Found the article: []

  • by Bearhouse ( 1034238 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @09:59AM (#31380386)

    Well, why not? The US essentially ended the first space race by making multiple landings on the moon. Still an extraordinary achievement, and frankly an amazing one given the technology available at the time. 1969, remember.
    Gentlemen, I salute you. (And no, I'm not American...)
    What do you do to top that?
    It's like gambling; sometimes it's better to get up from the table and keep your winnings.
    The shuttle program was - frankly - a disaster, financially but especially and unfortunately in human lives.
    Let the Chinese and others waste a fortune trying to do what NASA did, and save the cash for Medicare.

  • by jimbolauski ( 882977 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @10:34AM (#31380578) Journal
    So how long until the current administration will be accountable for their actions unemployment has only risen since Obama has been in office.
  • Ballons (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @11:03AM (#31380784) Journal
    I would prefer a couple of balloons to float around with small amounts of equipment: weather info; Camera below: magnetic sensor: radiation detector on top. That would give a lot of information on places to look at. In addition, the camera would be able to see much closer than could the sats, though it would not be controllable in terms of where to fly. But at this time, it is useful to get a closer look at the planet via serin dipity.
  • New System? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nethead ( 1563 ) <> on Saturday March 06, 2010 @11:51AM (#31381042) Homepage Journal

    So we need a new system because the current rover design failed so catastrophically? /snark

    We have an outstanding current rover design and I'm sure that there are many small tweaks NASA would love to include in a Ver. 2. Let's just send a few more siblings of Spirit and Opportunity up to new areas. Maybe one (ok, two) designed to go pin god-damn medals on Spirit & Oppy. Let's build upon success.

  • Re:Two problems (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nyeerrmm ( 940927 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @01:41PM (#31381708)

    This would be a terrible way to do a single vehicle. However, they want to 'swarm' these instead. While each individual vehicle may be limited, if you have hundreds canvasing a region, correlating the data between each 'tumbleweed' would make the information more valuable than the mere sum of its parts.

    I don't think this replaces something like the MERs, but rather complements them.

How long does it take a DEC field service engineer to change a lightbulb? It depends on how many bad ones he brought with him.