NASA is aiming to have humans on Mars in the next few decades, even if that comes with more risk than we originally thought. Just getting there is only the first challenge. Humans have to be able to survive and explore the red planet, and the agency just unveiled a vehicle that could help with the latter. The new six-wheeled rover looks like it just rolled out of a sci-fi movie.
The is a concept vehicle, meaning this design won’t even land on Mars. It was designed by US based Parker Brothers Concepts, based on specifications provided by NASA. The vehicle was unveiled this week at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex. It was commissioned as part of an educational program to get the public excited about space exploration.
The rover is an imposing vehicle at about 28 feet (8.5 meters) long and 13 feet (4 meters) wide. It uses a bank of solar panels to provide power to its 50-inch wheels. The designers say it could theoretically reach speeds as high as 70 mph, but on Mars’ rocky terrain it would likely be limited to 15 mph or less. The frame is made entirely of aluminum and carbon fiber, which helps cut down on the weight. Still, this is a huge vehicle that would take up a ton of cargo space on a Mars mission even if the weight was negligible.
This isn’t just a rover, though. It was designer to split into two parts, with the front retaining two of the six wheels. The back section contains a full laboratory, which can remain stationary as the front section continues to scout around. It’s a neat design, but there’s no guarantee NASA will adopt it for its real Mars rovers.
The agency says it does plan to incorporate some elements of the concept’s design into the real thing at some point. If not the detachable lab, then maybe the ducted wheels, which were designed to let Martian dust pass through. It’s likely that any future Mars mission will rely on a much more modest rover for getting around the surface. Even if one of these massive rovers could be transported, how many spare parts could you bring along?
NASA’s current timeline calls for humans to land on Mars in the 2030s, so it has some time to figure out an official rover design. However, if SpaceX lives up to the hype and makes it to Mars first, it’ll need a rover design of its own much sooner.