New destinations demand new ways of traversing inhospitable planets. Rovers may soon be replaced by… robot snakes.
NASA has spent three years testing EELS, the robot snake that is going to explore the icy moon Enceladus of Saturnone of the places in the Solar System where more likely to find life.
Actually we have rovers exploring the surfaces of the Moon and Mars. They are robots with wheels that reach the size of a car, as is the case with Perseverance. They can move slowly practically flat and dry surfaces. But any slightest obstacle in their path, from a small slope to a stone or a crater, forces them to change their route.
Rovers are functional in these dry, flat places, but most of the moons and planets in the Solar System do not meet this condition.
That is why NASA is developing new types of roving robots that can move comfortably in more inhospitable places.
NASA’s robot snake
The moon Enceladus Saturn is one of the places where more likely to find life.
It is a small moon, 500 kilometers in diameter, completely covered by a layer of ice that reflects the light of the Sun. That is why the temperatures are extreme: 198 degrees below zero at noon.
The most interesting of enceladus the thing is has a liquid ocean under the ice capwhich could also be heated by geothermal sources.
In 2017 NASA discovered that on the surface there are geysers and fumaroles that emit water vapor coming from that ocean, and that water vapor contains hydrogen. They are viable conditions for microscopic life.
But a moon of ice and snow, with rivers of water, geysers and an underground ocean, not the best place for a wheeled rover. I couldn’t walk a meter.
This is where it comes in EELS, the robot snake that NASA has been developing for three years:
EELS is a robot that is 4 meters long and weighs 100 kilos.. As we see in the news opening video, you can scroll in many different ways.
It slithers like a snakebut thanks to the independent motors in each node, you can turn on itself, roll, stand up, climbetc.
With this system you can move on any terrain: flat, rocky, ice, snow, etc. It is also capable of overcoming rocks or getting into craters.
But the most important thing is that this robot snake can also swim and divea vital feature for dive into the subterranean ocean of Enceladus.
Its final version will be completely autonomous, endowed with artificial intelligence to explore places on its own. And not just Saturnian moons, but also Earth’s glaciers, for example.
EELS, NASA’s robot snake to explore Saturn’s moon Enceladus, progresses at a good pace. Soon rovers on the Moon and Mars will have a much more versatile exploring companion.