Locomotion is the most common form of movement in nature. NASA’s latest robot concept will use exactly that to hop around distant planets. Designed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, the little robot is going to be designed to easily navigate ove icy terrains, such as Jupiter’s moon, Enceladus or Saturn’s moon, Enceladus.
In 2018, the Steam Powered Autonomous Retrieval Robot for Ocean Worlds (better known as SPARROW) was given the all-clear by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program. SPARROW was seen as a way for water-based propellant systems to be experimented for future use.
With the circumference of around 70cm, the robot will feature a system of thrusters and tools kept in a spherical cage and be powered not by rocket fuel, but by that aforementioned steam from melted ice. A lander would bring a collection of SPARROWs to the surface and dig into the ice, which would then be melted and used for fuel for the robots.
In a low gravity world, there’d be reduced drag, so it’d be easier for the robot to hop over the worlds with bursts of steam. When low on steam, the bot would return to the lander to refuel and drop off scientific samples for analysis.
Hopefully, the SPARROW will allow the future of locomotive space tech.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech