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  1. #1
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    Default Modular Planet Probes: "Rover" w/ "Toolkits"



    Perhaps planetary probes could be built in a modular style, with a rugged, durable, long-life, "built Ford tough" Rover or Walker. This would have modular attachment points, or bays, for scientific "Toolkits", which could be periodically launched from Earth, and dropped planetside, near the then-current location of the planetary probe. The probe could "swap" Toolkits, and thereby perform myriad science experiments. Since multiple Toolkit subunits could be launched, for the same price & payload mass as standard, currently-conventional, "one shot" probes, perhaps it could help cut costs.

    Perhaps, too, the main mobile unit could be built black, or dark, or otherwise made of materials designed to absorb the planet's IR emissions. Perhaps, too, you could build IR-frequency "solar panels", which would be "planet panels", or "heat panels", pointing downwards, designed to absorb the world's heat emissions ??? Ability to shake dirt & dust off the panels, like shaking water off an umbrella, would be welcome as well (self cleaning).

    It seems like there should be some standardization to the planetary probe process -- the currently constant customization, of new & novel launch and landing techniques, seems spurious.

    "Number One, please put a probe on that planet"

    "Sir, should we launch the lander with balloon cushions, detachable parachute, retrorockets..."

    Pick the best method, and move on (what am I missing ??) ?

  2. #2
    psonice's Avatar
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    A modular rover sounds good, but it's probably not so good when you really think it through (which the mission planners spend years doing!)

    For a start, if it's modular it means the science packages have to be a certain size + shape. That's ok, but not as good as having total flexibility like now, so as much as possible can be crammed onto the rover.

    Plus, if it's more rugged, it's bigger and heavier by default. That probably means sending the rover on one mission, then the first science pack on the second. You just doubled the costs already. OK, so maybe you could send two packs on the second mission, and you're now evens with the potential to send 2 more on the 3rd mission, giving you the same science in 3 missions you'd normally get with 4.

    Problem there is you're increasing your risk. If the rover dies for any reason, you've wasted potentially 3 missions. Sending 3 rovers, you'd have 2 left.

    It might last a lot longer on the ground, yes.. but that would just mean it going out of date rather than dying after the important stuff has been done. It'd be too expensive to maintain, and it would be abandoned and replaced by something new after a while.

    Thermal emissions as a power source.. remember mars isn't exactly hot Besides, I think these things work by using a difference in temperature don't they? It could possibly drill a hole and stick something under the ground where it's warmer to generate some power (this is done on earth in some places). I doubt it would produce much, maybe it could help over the winter, but would it be worth the energy needed to drill, plus the extra equipment?

    Oh, and the landing methods: I think it's just a case of looking at the options, and saying "actually, they're all pretty bad and quite risky", then picking whichever looks the least risky at the time Plus, it's better that they try them all out now and know which work well, before they start sending people out there

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    Pointing photovoltaic panels at the ground really isn't worthwhile; basically for any size of array your would still get more energy pointing them at the sun than at the ground. I'm not sure why they couldn't utilize something like an RTG on a Mars lander; I would assume it's the cost and safety compared to solar panels. It's not needed, so why risk all the protests and headaches involved with sending a kilo of plutonium up into space?

    Now, if you want a really cool way of powering a rover on the ground, look at a large space-based solar array, a powerful laser, and a band-gap matched panel on the ground. With how little atmosphere Mars has, you wouldn't have nearly the issues as on Earth with such a scheme. This would be especially good for exploring the polar icecaps; you could install the arrays in a circumpolar orbit and they would be able to beam down power 24/7 at latitudes where solar panels would produce very little power.
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    Putting a space station, into orbit, about Mars, might make for a stable science platform, for human mission controllers.

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    I'm not sure on the benefits of that one either.. if we put people in orbit around mars, they still can't do anything on mars other than control robots, and we can do that from earth. They could do space-based research, but they could do that on the ISS.

    The big benefit would be the lack of time delay - they could give the rovers instructions in a couple of seconds rather than, what, 7 minutes is it to mars? Actually probably longer. So they could control the rovers in near realtime while they're in radio contact. Considering that the current system is to send say 1 hours worth of instructions (with a "stop if anything goes wrong" added), it's going to improve what we could do with the rovers but not a whole lot.

    Then consider what it cost to build the ISS. You'd need something similar, possibly bigger as it would have to be reasonably self-sufficient because it's going to be VERY expensive and time consuming to send air, water and food to mars. And it's going to be even more expensive to swap the astronauts every 6 months or so

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    Quote Originally Posted by Widdekind View Post
    This would have modular attachment points, or bays, for scientific "Toolkits", which could be periodically launched from Earth, and dropped planetside, near the then-current location of the planetary probe.
    Hi,
    The idea itself is great. but the technicalities could be prohibiting. If you look at the attempts to install or fix some equipment in the space, you will see that still nothing is more versatile than human hands. And some sort of "hand" for picking up and installing stuff on a robot must be quite tough and intelligent - means heavy. The other consideration - with space robots it's exactly the case where the delivery may be as costly (or even more costly) than the item itself. So risk of getting anything wrong must be minimized. For that sending a complete thing is a better option in terms of financial risks. And, finally, I am not sure that, say, Mars can be targeted with the precision more than some tenths or even hundreds of kilometers - which is an awful lot with a vehicle that does just maybe a couple of meters an hour. However, if people will ever be around there, your idea may prove handy.

    Cheers,
    Michael

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    Agreed, humans are infinitely versatile and the best way to get things fixed. Problem though: the humans are orbiting in a space station, and the rover is on the ground Humans could fix the space station.. but honestly, all the broken things on the ISS I can remember from the last few years seem to be the things that keep the humans alive

 

 

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