A document describes a next-generation tumbleweed rover that involves a split balloon system that is made up of two half-spherical air bladders with a disc between them. This disc contains all the electronics and instruments. By deflating only the bottom balloon, the rover can sit, bringing the surface probe into contact with the ground. The bottom balloon has a channel passing through it, allowing the surface probe to reach the surface through the balloon. Once the sample has been gathered and analyzed, the rover can re-inflate the lower air bladder and continue rolling.

The rover will use a small set of instruments and electronics situated at the center of its inflatable spherical hull. The current version is a large beach-ball- like construction, about 1.8 m in diameter and weighing roughly 15 kg. The rover comprises two major parts, an outer spherical hull (split in half at the central disc) and an inner, disc-shaped cylindrical section. The balloons are attached to the bottom and top of the disc. Inside the disc, there are temperature and pressure sensors to keep track of the inner and outer conditions of the rover. A system of pumps and valves is responsible for independently inflating and deflating the balloons as necessary. There are also accelerometers to record the movement, together with a GPS receiver. The data are then sent through a modem to a control station. This work builds upon the project “Tumbleweed rover for planetary exploration,” described in the Technical Support Package, as noted below.

This work was done by Jeffrey P. Nosanov of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-47648

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Next-Generation Tumbleweed Rover

(reference NPO-47648) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the December, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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