Meet the Robot Pioneers That Will Allow Us to Colonize Mars | Digital Trends

Meet the robotic pioneers that will help humanity colonize Mars

By Georgina Torbet November 21, 2019 3:00AM PST

Meet the robotic pioneers that will help humanity colonize Mars

From NASA’s upcoming Moon to Mars mission to Elon Musk’s ambitious plans to use a SpaceX Starship to eventually colonize Mars, the race to populate the Red Planet is already on. But before humans can visit Mars and set up any kind of long-term base there, we need to send out scouts to see the lay of the land and prepare it for manned missions.

The mechanical pioneers we’ll be sending to Mars in the coming years will follow in the tire tracks of explorers like the Curiosity rover and the Insight lander, but the next generation of Martian robotics will use sophisticated AI, novel propulsion methods, and flexible smallsats to meet the challenges of colonizing a new world.

Designing for the Mars environment

There are distinct difficulties in building machines which can withstand the Martian environment. First, there’s the cold, with temperatures averaging around minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit and going down to minus 190 degrees Fahrenheit at the poles. Then there’s the thin atmosphere, which is just one percent the density of Earth’s atmosphere. And then there’s the troublesome dust that gets kicked up in any operations on the planet’s surface, not to mention the intense radiation from the Sun’s rays.

These environmental conditions create problems for robotics, from temperature variations which cause mechanisms to expand and contract and so wear over time, to dust getting into gears which prevents the use of exposed lubrication.

NASA’s Curiosity rover, with its robotic arm built by Maxar to withstand the Martian environment.

NASA

“It’s a very unique and extreme environment, even for space robotics,” said Al Tadros, VP of Space Infrastructure and Civil Space at Maxar Technologies, which is the company that builds the robotic arms for NASA’s Mars rovers. Maxar’s robotic arms must be able not only to survive this harsh environment, but also perform the tasks like digging and drilling which enable scientific investigations….

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  Meet the Robot Pioneers That Will Allow Us to Colonize Mars | Digital Trends


 





 

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