In an effort to improve the exploration of other planets, NASA is launching a daring “Angry Birds”-like mission to bombard the Martian moon Phobos with robotic hedgehog probes. This mission is expected to span the next decade or so.
The mentioned space hedgehogs are small, spiky, ball-shaped rovers composing a novel mission idea called Phobos Surveyor. The rovers are said to be able to take advantage of the the Mars moon Phobos’ low gravity, as well as that of its sister moon Deimos, and various asteroids. The devices have been designed to work with a nearby mother ship, and their shape just happens to resemble that of the notorious “Angry Birds” characters.
The low gravity of the mere miles-wide moon Phobos will allow the hedgehogs to work well, states Yahoo News. Mars’ own gravitational pull is a thousand times stronger than that of its moons, and roughly a third that of Earth itself. NASA’s Curiosity and Opportunity rovers currently explore the surface of Mars, where their weight allows them enough traction to compensate for the gravity, said researcher Marco Pavone of Stanford University.
Pavone, who developed the technology for the hedgehog, states:
“The problem with [conventional] rovers is, in low gravity, you don’t have any traction. That means your wheels spin and you do not move.”
Pavone points out that the hedgehog will utilize three discs inside to move it:
“The three discs inside a hedgehog point in different directions, giving controllers the ability to move the devices with precision. Slightly speeding up the discs can send the hedgehogs tumbling, and a quick spin can make the hedgehog hop to a nearby location.”
Plans are in progress for 5-6 of the rovers to make the lengthy journey to Phobos, and then to release the “hedgehogs” one-by-one at different sites. However, Planet Save suggests the technology to get them there has yet to be perfected, and could take another decade or two depending on funding.
The “Angry Birds” mission is said to facilitate the gathering of data to map and study the surface of other planets and asteroids with less gravity, and NASA plans to relay the information via an orbiting mother ship.