NASA’s Mars rovers have always been old-school in that they rely on wheels to travel around the Red Planet.
This approach works well on flat surfaces, but can be problematic when faced with rocky terrain or steep slopes. The solution: a Mars “hopper” that can leap over obstacles and land safely on the nearest flat area.
Developed by researchers with Leicester University’s Space Research Center and the Paris-based aerospace company Astrium — part of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company — this new breed of Mars explorer would be propelled into the air by carbon dioxide extracted from the atmosphere, liquified, then heated by a radioactive source and ejected out a nozzle. The resulting thrust would be strong enough to allow a 2,000 lb. craft to leap up to 900 meters in a single bound.
According to Leicester University’s Hugo Williams, one of the scientists working on the project, this approach would allow future robotic explorers to overcome very difficult terrain, as well as traverse much greater distances than slower-moving, wheeled vehicles.