NASA’s latest rover can travel thousands of miles over rocks and up slopes.

Off-Road International,
a Racefab Inc. company
Rusk, TX

The structural panels and chassis for NASA’s latest rovers are being built and analyzed by Off-Road International to traverse unpredictable terrain. The company’s design team was approached to examine the vehicles’ structure utilizing finite element analysis (FEA). Working with NASA engineers, several changes were made before construction began.

The chassis are constructed from 4130 chromoly steel on the company’s precision surface plates. The key to constructing such a large, lightweight, tubular chassis with no distortion and little to no inherent stress is a unique vehicle manufacturing process of vibratory stress relief. The process is applied during and post-weldment, and ensures the structure is stable before it leaves the precision tooling.

NASA’s latest rovers, including the Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) concept, are designed to be flexible depending on the destination. They feature a pressurized cabin that can be used both for in-space missions and for surface exploration of planetary bodies, including near-Earth asteroids and Mars.

Structural panels for the rover are constructed using a unique process.
The surface exploration version of the SEV has the cabin mounted on the chassis, with wheels that can pivot 360 degrees, and drive about 10 kilometers per hour in any direction. It’s about the size of a pickup truck (with 12 wheels), and can house two astronauts for up to 14 days with sleeping and sanitary facilities. Likewise, the in-space version of the SEV would have the same pressurized cabin on a flying platform; it too would allow two astronauts to stay onsite for 14 days.

The surface SEV is designed to require little or no maintenance, and be able to travel thousands of miles climbing over rocks and up 40-degree slopes. The vehicle frame was field-tested in the desert Southwest with 140 km of driving on rough lava.

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NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2015 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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