Mars rover can explore caves like Hansel and Gretel: research

While cities on Earth are engulfed in a constant struggle to address housing shortages, the market on Mars has heated up.

Engineers at the University of Arizona have developed a system they say could allow rovers to find habitat for astronauts in caves and other underground locations. It’s been a long time since humans considered caves home, but researchers say underground features on the red planet will provide some of the best options for shelter when humans finally reach the stars. Fire.

“Lava tubes and caves would make the perfect habitat for astronauts because you don’t have to build structures,” said Wolfgang Fink, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Arizona. . “You’re protected from harmful cosmic radiation, so all you need to do is make it nice and cozy.”

Fink and his co-authors detailed how the system works in a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Science. Advances in space research on February 11. Their approach involves a communication network that will link different types of autonomous vehicles through a “network topology”.

These self-contained rovers will be deployed by a larger “mother” rover and travel on their own above and below the Martian surface, continuously monitoring their environment and maintaining positional awareness. theirs in space. They will also keep in touch with each other through a wireless data connection.

To avoid going out of range and getting lost, the rider deploys intercom buttons along the way, much like Hansel and Gretel leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in a classic German fairy tale.

To pay tribute to the legendary brothers, the team named their patent-pending system the “Breadcrumb-style Dynamic Deployed Communication Network” model or DDCN.

“In our scenario, ‘breadcrumbs’ are miniature sensors piggyback on rovers, which will deploy the sensors as they travel through a cave or subsurface environment,” says Fink. other.

When a rover senses the signal is fading but is still within range, it will drop a communication node, regardless of the distance it has covered since the last node was placed.

“One of the new aspects is what we call opportunistic deployment – the idea that you deploy ‘paths’ when you have to and not on a previously planned schedule,” Fink said.

Fink and his co-authors say their new method could help solve one of NASA’s major Space Technology Challenges by providing the technology needed to safely navigate through environments. on comets, asteroids, moons and planets. NASA’s Great Challenges is an open call for innovative solutions that address critical space-related problems, such as the need for a mobile system that enables humans and robots to Explore above, above or below any destination surface.

The DDCN concept can work in one of two ways. In one mode, a parent rover passively receives data transmitted by the rovers as they explore the caves and lava tubes on Mars. In other cases, the parent autonomous vehicle acts as a dispatcher, telling the autonomous vehicles where to go.

Both modes will allow a group of rovers to navigate the underground environment without ever losing contact with their “mother rover” on the surface. Equipped with a navigation and light detection system, also known as a lidar, explorers can even map out the cave passages in three dimensions.

The paper has attracted some attention in the field of solar system exploration, earning praise from Dirk Schulze-Makuch, president of the German Astrobiology Society.

“The communication network approach introduced in this new paper has the potential to herald a new age of planetary and astrobiological discoveries,” Schulze-Makuch said in a press release.

“It also finally allows us to explore the lava tube caves on Mars and the subsurface oceans of icy moons – places where extraterrestrial life could exist.”

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