Check out NASA's intriguing four-wheeled rover prototype made for planetary exploration

Humza

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In a nutshell: It could have made for an interesting entry into BattleBots or Robot Wars, but NASA's new DuAxel rover isn't wielding an axe or a flipper to fight other robots. What it does have though, is a pair of two-wheel axles and lots of scientific instruments onboard that potentially transform it into the ultimate planetary exploration machine.

Like off-road enthusiasts, NASA is also familiar with the challenges of driving in unusual, rocky terrain where the slightest miscalculation around a steep slope can risk the entire journey. While the help of a human hand can remedy such a risky situation on Earth, NASA doesn't get that luxury when it's controlling a rover millions of miles away from home on the surface of Mars.

To get around this problem, the space agency has been developing and testing a new versatile rover design that uses a pair of two-wheeled axles to cover long distances as a single vehicle that can then be split into two if it encounters a difficult obstacle on its way to a scientifically attractive location.

The two halves, both of which NASA calls the Axel, allows the DuAxel (short for dual-Axel) rover to navigate around extreme terrains by having its rear half anchored firmly in place, while the forward half can drive and explore the tough bits ahead. Both axles aren't completely detached as the front half is tethered to the main body for support, communication, and power.

Once the forward Axel reaches its target with camera-based mapping and navigation, it can autonomously deploy instruments tucked inside the wheel hubs for scientific analysis. The tether is then used to reel back in the forward Axel and dock it with the main rover, which can then drive off to a new exploration site.

NASA tested the DuAxel prototype in the Mojave Desert last fall and found that the rover performed "extremely well" in the field. It could now potentially be used to study crater slopes on Mars that are too steep for the agency's Curiosity rover as well as the soon-to-land Perseverance rover.

"DuAxel opens up access to more extreme terrain on planetary bodies such as the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and possibly some icy worlds, like Jupiter's moon Europa," said Issa Nesnas, a robotics technologist at NASA's JPL, whose team is now refining the prototype until one day it's ready to explore what previously had been inaccessible lands.

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VitalyT

Posts: 5,202   +4,331
TechSpot Elite
Such things always give me a divided feeling. First, you want to admire the engineering thinking, but then you learn that this tiny thing cost your tax payers $2.5bln, and go like - whaaat?!

Especially today, I guess it beats dying from Covid. But hey, maybe during the next pandemic we can hide on Mars from it - right?
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 7,606   +6,117
You forgot to add in the spare tire and jack ..... thats another $250,000 million, oh yeah, it's another $5 if you want the white wall letters on the outside .....
 

neeyik

Posts: 1,464   +1,617
Staff member
Such things always give me a divided feeling. First, you want to admire the engineering thinking, but then you learn that this tiny thing cost your tax payers $2.5bln, and go like - whaaat?!
Not sure where you've got that figure from, but the Axel rover project is being done by JPL, and their entire annual budget last year was just under $2.75 billion. This particular project also started life over 8 years ago, so if the $2.5b figure is genuine, then it will be cumulative costs since inception and probably inclusive of other EDLR projects too.
 

VitalyT

Posts: 5,202   +4,331
TechSpot Elite
Not sure where you've got that figure from,
Mainly, from previous experience of similar projects, like Curiosity Rover's final cost was $2.5bln, by 2012, which we know because it was finished. For this project, the final cost is not yet known, but given the past experiences, plus in adjusted dollars today, it's probably safe to assume the cost will be not less than $2.5bln.
 

neeyik

Posts: 1,464   +1,617
Staff member
Curiosity's $2.5b cost include launch and descent vehicles, science instrumentation, and control/operational overheads. Not trying to justify that amount of money, but this is an entirely different research project: it's a proof of concept more than anything else. Besides, Curiosity is a 3 m long, 900 kg rover; the Axel is a 1.5 m wide, 40 kg rover - that last figure makes it a significantly cheaper system to launch, enter, and land. The total cost for the MER program (two launches, two 180 kg rovers, two separate operational programmes) came to $0.93b.
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,695   +966
Mainly, from previous experience of similar projects, like Curiosity Rover's final cost was $2.5bln, by 2012, which we know because it was finished. For this project, the final cost is not yet known, but given the past experiences, plus in adjusted dollars today, it's probably safe to assume the cost will be not less than $2.5bln.
You do realize that the money spent on those rovers isn't just loaded onto a rocket and launched into space, right? It is spent at American companies, buying American products and paying American salaries.
 
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VitalyT

Posts: 5,202   +4,331
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You do realize that the money spent on those rovers isn't just loaded onto a rocket and launched into space, right? It is spent at American companies, buying American products and paying American salaries.
You are naive. Most of that money lands in the pockets of companies owners who contracted and/or sub-contracted their tech and people to Nasa. It is the same money dump as with military projects.
 

Peter Farkas

Posts: 467   +265
Wonder when we will see a cheap chinese knock-off of this for $250 lmao...
though we know it wont send back any meaningful or useful data to us but it will be on another planet lol....
it will only need 8 AAA batteries :)
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,695   +966
You are naive. Most of that money lands in the pockets of companies owners who contracted and/or sub-contracted their tech and people to Nasa. It is the same money dump as with military projects.
I work in the defense industry, so I know for a fact that everything you just said is wrong. Company profits and executive pay are both regulated for the prime contractors - this is why stock is a heavy part of the compensation for defense executives. Smaller sub contractors can get away with some money shenanigans, but not to the tune of millions.
 

VitalyT

Posts: 5,202   +4,331
TechSpot Elite
I work in the defense industry, so I know for a fact that everything you just said is wrong. Company profits and executive pay are both regulated for the prime contractors - this is why stock is a heavy part of the compensation for defense executives. Smaller sub contractors can get away with some money shenanigans, but not to the tune of millions.
Sounds like you know everything, about how each dollar of the last year's Pentagon budget of $721.5 billion was spent. LOL. I rest my case.

Pentagon is the US largest and bottomless money pit where money flow in and disappear faster than Wall Street blows it on coke and strippers.
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,695   +966
Sounds like you know everything, about how each dollar of the last year's Pentagon budget of $721.5 billion was spent. LOL. I rest my case.

Pentagon is the US largest and bottomless money pit where money flow in and disappear faster than Wall Street blows it on coke and strippers.
Certainly know more than you, at least.