A View from Brittany Sauser

A Nuclear-Powered Mars Hopper

Researchers say a vehicle could explore Mars more efficiently by collecting gas from the planet’s atmosphere to use as propellant.

  • November 17, 2010

Researchers at the Space Research Center in the United Kingdom have developed a concept for a Mars rover that would use nuclear power and propellant gathered from the Martian atmosphere to hop a kilometer at a time. A vehicle that hops such a distance could cover diverse areas faster than current wheeled rovers, says Hugo Williams, lead researcher for the new hopper concept.

Taking giant leaps across a planet is not a new idea. Researchers at Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts have developed a prototype of such a vehicle. But the recent work stands out because it would gather carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere, heat it up, and discharges it through a rocket nozzle to propel the vehicle. While it will take the vehicle about a week to refuel after making a hop, Williams says having its fuel source in-situ would extend its operational time and range. The hopper would also uses a nuclear-powered engine so it would not be reliant on solar panels for energy like the current generation of rovers .

Richard Ambrosi, a researcher at the Space Research Center, says that the vehicle would use a guidance, navigation, and control system already used by other spacecraft and would be mostly autonomous. The work was published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

The latest Insider Conversation is live! Listen to the story behind the story.

Subscribe today
Already a Premium subscriber? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Basic.
  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.