This new generation of NASA robots will revolutionize solar system

This new generation of NASA robots will revolutionize solar system exploration – Futura

Scientists initially used probes to explore the solar system. Now on rovers. They provided valuable data. However, they may not be up to the challenge of exploring distant planets in particular. To find out what’s hiding in these hostile environments, researchers invent new solutions. NASA is currently developing an amazing snake-like robot.

A liquid ocean likely lies beneath the icy crust of Enceladus, one of Saturn’s many moons. And researchers believe there may be some forms of extraterrestrial life there. To get to the bottom of it, you probably need to watch it. Yes, but Saturn is far away. And rovers, such as those that have been sent to Mars so far, may not be well suited to exploring the icy landscape of Enceladus.

Regardless, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL, NASANasa) teams decided to take up the challenge. They envisioned a new type of robot for exploring extreme areas. A self-driving and autonomous robot called EELS – short for Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor. A robot that is very special in that it looks like… a snake!

“EELS has the ability to go places other robots cannot. “While some robots are better at one type of terrain or another, the idea of ​​this robot is to give it the ability to do anything,” JPL project manager Matthew Robinson said in a statement. “When you go places where you’re not sure what you’re going to find, you want to send a robot that’s versatile, aware of the risks, prepared for uncertainty, and capable of making decisions on its own.”

No soil will resist him

Therefore, EELS was designed in such a way that it can move and orient itself on a wide variety of terrains. Finally almost everywhere in our solar system. If necessary also on earth. In sand or on ice, on rock faces or in craters too steep for rovers, in underground lava tubes or even in glacial labyrinths. And on the frozen ground of Enceladus, to the fissures from which escape the amino acid-laden water vapor clouds observed by the Cassini mission.

Robot snakes to explore Mars?

The current version, EELS 1.0, weighs around 100 kilos and is four meters long. The robotic snake consists of 10 identical segments that rotate and use screw threads for propulsion, traction and support. It has already been tested in different environments. JPL engineers plan to work a bit in startup mode: build fast, test often, learn, adapt, repeat.

Because the challenge is huge. Once EELS is on Enceladus, it will be very far from humanity. He won’t be able to count on the engineers’ help to get around. The teams have therefore deployed a system of cameras and lidar lidar – a type of radar that uses short laser pulses instead of radio waves – to allow the robot to map its surroundings. Navigation algorithms then determine the safest route for him. And the procedure depends on the external conditions. The final version of the robotic snake will also integrate no less than 48 types of small motors, ensuring its flexibility. They also allow him, thanks to sensors, to feel the force he is exerting on the ground. Enough to ride vertically especially in narrow slides with uneven surfaces. “So far we have focused on the autonomy and mobility of the robot, later we will see what scientific instruments we can integrate into EELS,” specifies Matthew Robinson. Be continued…