DuAxel – NASA’s transforming rover to explore tough terrains on Mars

NASA recently unveiled a new four-wheeled rover called the DuAxel, designed to descend craters and near-vertical cliffs on the Moon, Mars, and beyond. The rover can split into two separate two-wheeled rovers.

The rover is made of a pair of two-wheeled rovers called Axel. This four-wheeled configuration allows for driving long distances across rugged landscapes, while the two-wheeled version offers nimbleness over the large one.

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To tackle hazardous terrain and down slopes, the DuAxel lowers its chassis and anchors it to the ground. With the lower half firmly anchored, the forward undock and rolls away on the single axel and rappels down the slope. Scientific instruments stowed in the wheel hub will help study scientifically attractive locations like crater walls, pits, scarps, vents, and other extreme terrains that would normally be out of reach for bigger, bulkier rovers.

The modular rover performed extremely well during a series of tests conducted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in the Mojave Desert to test the design’s versatility.

DuAxel: A NASA Prototype Rover to Explore the Toughest Terrain. Credit: NASA/JPL

According to Issa Nesnas, a robotics technologist at JPL, “DuAxel performed extremely well in the field, successfully demonstrating its ability to approach a challenging terrain, anchor, and then undock its tethered Axel rover.” Nesnas added, “Axel then autonomously maneuvered down steep and rocky slopes, deploying its instruments without the necessity of a robotic arm.”

Instead of safeguarding itself against dangers like falling or flipping over, the rover is designed to withstand them. It is impossible to immobilize the rover on two wheels.

“DuAxel opens up access to more extreme terrain on planetary bodies such as the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and possibly some icy worlds, like Jupiter’s moon Europa,” Nesnas said.

The Martian surface’s satellite imagery revealed gullies in the crater walls, which could be the perfect candidate for DuAxel to explore. These slopes are too steep for conventional rovers, including Perseverance.

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Source: JPL

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