Rovers are handy on level ground, but when it comes to more treacherous terrain (or mountains), NASA is looking to something a bit more ambitious for the next trip to the Red Planet.
A team at NASA’s Swamp Works Lab is putting together some unique Extreme Access Flyers (EAF) drones, specially designed to work in Mars’ thin environment. The trick? Some of the prototypes are powered and maneuvered by gas jets, as opposed to rotors, meaning they could even work in completely airless environments. The drones would use a ground-based rover as a docking station to refuel and recharge between flights.
The end goal is to create a craft that can essentially be used to seek out resources on alien planets, moons, asteroids, etc., that humans can eventually use when we get there. They could also explore massive lava tubes on Mars, which researchers think could make for promising base camps. Hey, if we’re going all the way to Mars, we definitely want to set up shop in the optimal location on the planet. These drones could pull the samples and intel from dangerous corners of the solar system.
"This is a prospecting robot," said Rob Mueller, senior technologist for advanced projects at Swamp Works. "The first step in being able to use resources on Mars or an asteroid is to find out where the resources are. They are most likely in hard-to-access areas where there is permanent shadow. Some of the crater walls are angled 30 degrees or more, and that's far too steep for a traditional rover to navigate and climb."
Though the extraterrestrial applications are obviously huge, NASA officials note this tech could also be applied here on Earth, to gather soil samples during a radiation leak or to gather samples from an area that may be rendered toxic for humans.
(Via The Verge)