Researchers at Concordia University are trying to unlock the secrets of four-wheeling on the surface of Mars — secrets that eluded the Spirit rover launched by NASA when it got stuck in the soil of the red planet in 2009.
The research team recently concluded a week of testing in March that involved three flights of a special aircraft operated by the National Research Council known as the Falcon 20. The plane can fly in gravity-defying parabolas that can simulate the light gravity of Mars.
As a result, the Concordia research team, led by professor Krzysztof Skonieczny, managed to see how a steel, treaded wheel behaved in soil that was less dense due to gravity that is only 38 per cent of that of Earth. Skonieczny’s team believes they can build a better rover with what they’ve learned.
Much of the lessons they learned involved troubleshooting — like what to do when dust gets into moving parts that need to slide — and how the soil behaves in environments that are different from Earth.
The research team hopes that their breakthroughs make it onboard the Mars rover to be launched by the European Space Agency in 2020.