Researchers at Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and MIT are developing a vehicle that could explore the moon, Mars or an asteroid by taking giant propulsive leaps.
Known as “the hopper,” the vehicle could leap over craters, cliffs, and other obstacles, covering as much as a kilometer at a time. While in the air, the hopper would be able to map the ground below, to ensure that it lands safely.
“It’s a plane-car hybrid,” says Bobby Cohanim, principal investigator of the hopper at MIT. The hopper could drive around and then take a rocket propelled hop when it meets an obstacle or wants to move quickly to a new location, he says. The hopper could explore more of Mars in a few days than NASA’s current rovers have explored in six years, he adds.
The hopper, which is autonomously controlled, uses guidance, navigation and control, and avionics systems built by Draper. The structure and propulsion system for hopping–a ducted fan propulsion system with a cold-gas control system–is being developed by MIT. The plan is to use the hopper for the Google Lunar X Prize as part of the Next Giant Leap team.
I recently visited Draper and got a look at the hopper in its current state of development. Here’s a video of my visit: