NASA may not be its usual glorious self, but the agency is still the best in the world when it comes to innovating new technology that furthers space exploration and the society at large. The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program is specifically created to challenge the men and women of this country to come up with inventive ways of finding solutions to the problems facing the agency.
One of the latest projects examines robotics, and how they can survive in hostile environments such as the surface of Titan, one of the moons of Saturn.
The Super Ball Bot, as it is being called at the moment, will have to survive the environmentally hostile environment of Titan. While the moon has some of the components for which scientists say is ideal for life, the surface temperature fluctuates between 330 to 290 degrees below zero – not ideal for most of life as we know it.
The design of the Bot has to survive extreme weather conditions as well as multiple surface environments including ice, slush and sea. A previous attempt by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2005 resulted in the craft surviving for 90 minutes before it succumbed to Titan.
The prototype for the eventual Bot looks like a toy capable of retaining its shape no matter how hard it lands against a surface. Using what’s called a tensegrity system, it engages rods and cables to stabilize itself to its original shape.
Technically, a tensegrity is a system that stabilizes itself mechanically, as it distributes tensional and compressive forces within the structure. Whenever pressure is distributed in the structure stored energy, the structure springs back to its original shape.
This could be the ideal Bot for sending to a moon with clouds we can’t see through, and a surface that could be solid, liquid or a combination of both.
Without going outside of our solar system, the moons and planets in our vicinity will keep researchers at NASA and other space agencies busy for many years to come. What is clear is the men and women in this organization must be free to think without limitations so they can create a Super Ball Bot capable of surviving any ecosystem, and other technology that changes our future for the better.
The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program assembles private and public entities with the goal of creating the next breakthrough using the brightest Americans. The program funds concepts that one day could revolutionize aerospace technology by seeking proposals.
Anyone who has a concept that meets the criteria of the program can make a solicitation.
Edited by Braden Becker