Mars “hopper” will jump in and out of craters

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Mars landscape
Suddenly, those huge craters don’t seem so bad. Just a quick jump and they’ll be left in the Red Planet’s dust!

What’s large, has four legs, and likes to jump on Mars? Nothing yet, but if researchers from Leicester University and the Astrium space company manage to build a “Mars hopper,” it will definitely be bouncing around on the Red Planet to collect cool information!

Um, I’m pretty sure NASA has sent 4 Mars rovers to gather data, so I don’t see why researchers are trying to “reinvent the wheel” so to speak. Well, the NASA vehicles have been out and about on Mars, but their big bulky wheels make it difficult to drive through boulder-filled lands, steep slopes, and sand traps. Since the rovers can’t drive in certain areas, there’s a ton of valuable information they pass up, which could be vital to putting humans on the planet once and for all!

The Mars hopper will address the rocky issue by simply jumping over them! “The advantage of this approach is that you have the ability to traverse more aggressive terrains but also that you have wider mobility – the possibility of traversing much greater distances than we have with even the very successful rovers,” says Hugo Williams, from Leicester’s Space Research Centre. Woah, “greater distances” sounds like a lot of miles, so what kind of major hops will this thing achieve anyway?

Let’s just say, it’s enough to make any NBA star rage with envy. The researchers plan to equip the hopper with a special device that can take carbon dioxide from the Martian air, compress it, and convert it into liquid fuel. Once there’s enough inside its chamber, the liquid will be exposed to very intense heat which will cause it to expand rather quickly. In fact, it’ll happen so fast, the force will launch the hopper over half a mile at a time!

If I jumped that far, my leg bones would shatter like glass from the impact. Are the hopper’s legs made out of steel or something? Nope, instead the machines uses magnets to soften the blow. “It’s a magnetic system that many people might recall from science lessons at school,” explains Mike Williams, a mission systems engineer at Astrium. “When you drop a magnet down a copper tube, you expect it to fall under gravity but it falls very slowly because, as the magnet drops, it creates eddy currents that generate an opposing magnetic field.”

With the carbon dioxide fueled jumps and magnetically softened landings, the researchers say the hopper can be a perfect way to hop in and out of craters, tackle steep slopes, and bypass rocky roads.

Featured image courtesy of Idaho National Laboratory. Image of Mars landscape courtesy of NASA.