With my own memories of the July 4, 1997 landing of Mars Pathfinder at Chryse Planitia as fresh as yesterday, it’s hard to believe that we are looking at the 20th anniversary of rover operations on the planet. But as the Curiosity rover continues its travels and we look toward the Mars 2020 rover mission, we’re also taking a much longer look ahead at the worlds where life may be more likely to be found, the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
Ponder this: Testing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is showing that ice grains in conditions like we will encounter on places like Enceladus or Europa can behave like sand dunes. That means fine grains that could stall an improperly designed rover, leading NASA engineers to begin rethinking designs harking back to the early days of Moon exploration, lightweight commercial wheels attached to a flexible chassis, a system that has worked for a variety of missions but will need adjustment for future work. The rovers that use these systems will, in the case of moons like Europa, need serious attention to radiation hardening.
Image: Artist’s concept of Europa’s frozen surface. Credit: JPL-Caltech.
The project looking into extreme environments for ...