Concept for pioneering Mars "hopper" in development
A University research team, in collaboration with the space company Astrium Ltd., is developing its idea for a Mars "hopper" - a robot that can bound across the surface of the Red Planet using propellant collected from the Martian air.
The hopper design would have a mass of about 1,000kg. The main body would be about 2.5m across with a leg span of about 4m to provide stability.
Based on its size and weight, the rover would be able to leap across obstacles to the next safe, flat surface. Calculations suggest the vehicle could fly a distance of up to 900m at a time.
The research follows on from the publication of a paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A describing the predicted performance of the novel rocket engine, which we detailed in great depth back in 2010. The team at Leicester is led by Richard Ambrosi, Nigel Bannister and Hugo Williams, with support from colleagues Jon Sykes, John Bridges, Stuart Turner and Emily Jane Watkinson.
At the moment, Mars rovers use wheels to move around, but their progress can be hindered by steep slopes and uneven terrain such as boulder fields. The hopper would have wider mobility and the possibility of traversing much greater distances than other rovers.
This latest phase of research has been funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) and focussed on some of the key technologies needed for the hopper. Some of these technologies present challenges to the development project, but could also be applied to other missions and uses in space and on Earth.
Prior to this the project has been under development for a number of years, with the idea originating via a long-standing collaboration with the Centre for Space Nuclear Research, in Idaho, USA.