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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Draper Hopper Vehicle Could Help NASA Explore Mars

NASA could explore more of Mars in a few days than it has over the past six years through using a vehicle under development at Draper Laboratory that could land on the Martian surface and then propulsively “hop” around to various areas of interest.

The hopper could also help reduce the risk for human missions to Mars that the President and NASA envision, according to a presentation given by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate students working with Draper at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Space 2010 conference earlier this month in Anaheim, Calif.

Two hoppers could likely travel a total of 25 miles on the Martian surface with five hops in a matter of hours or a few days. NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity have traveled a total of just under 20 miles since landing on Mars in January 2004.

The MIT graduate students recently won the 2010 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) contest, which was sponsored by NASA and sought students’ ideas that can directly assist the agency’s engineers with the development of systems for missions to the Moon and Mars. Past participation has led to professional interaction with NASA on design projects, according to the RASC-AL website.

Draper is developing a planetary hopper test bed with MIT students and staff to mature operations, algorithms, and experience. The Terrestrial Autonomous Lunar Reduced gravIty System (TALARIS) testbed is designed to simulate a planetary gravity environment using a ducted fan propulsion system while an independent cold-gas control system performs the hop in the simulated environment. Draper is the lead systems engineer and developer of the guidance, navigation and control (GNC&C) and avionics systems; MIT is building the test bed structure and propulsion system.

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