Mars 'hopper' could lead to a greater understanding of the Red Planet

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 19, 2010 08:30 hrs

University of Leicester space scientists are developing a conceptual motor design for a Mars 'hopping' vehicle which should lead to a greater understanding of the Red Planet.

Robots exploring Mars can carry scientific instruments that measure the physical and chemical characteristics of the Martian surface and subsurface, analyse the environment and look for evidence of past or present life.

In collaboration with Astrium Ltd in the UK and Center for Space Nuclear Research, Idaho, USA, the University of Leicester scientists focussed on the development of a large-scale (400 kg) Mars Hopper concept that can fly in 1km 'hops'.

The Hopper can collect fuel between hops by compressing gas from the Martian atmosphere and can fly quickly between sites, powered by a long-life radioisotope power source. It could therefore study hundreds of locations over a lifetime of several years.

The Leicester research focused on the rocket motor, looking at its size and materials.

Richard Ambrosi, at the Leicester Space Research Centre, said: "The improved mobility and range of a hopping vehicle will tell us more about the evolution of Mars and of the Solar System and may answer questions as to whether there was life in the past, whether Mars was wetter in the past and if so where that water went."

Nigel Bannister added: "The Hopper is different from other rovers because of its power source. In one mode the heat source generates electric power to drive a compressor to gather the carbon dioxide propellant from the Martian atmosphere. The heat source then stores thermal energy and injects it into the propellant, which is accelerated out of a rocket nozzle to provide thrust."

The findings have been published this month by the Proceedings of the Royal Society. (ANI)

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