Tumbleweed Inflatable Rover
"Tumbleweed" is a large, beachball-like device that holds a central payload by means of a series of tension cords (Jones, 2001). On Mars, a 6-meter diameter ball could be used for descent (replacing the parachute), landing (replacing the airbag), and mobility (wind-driven on surface). With a 6-meter diameter ball on Mars, speeds of about 10 m/sec could be achieved during typical afternoon winds of 20 m/sec; steep hills should be easily climbed with only moderate winds. To stop, the ball is partially deflated by remote control; its mobility is then returned by command using a built-in pump to reinflate the Tumbleweed.
Tests using this type of ball as an impacter sphere were successfully conducted in the 1960s at JPL (Ross, 1966). Impact speeds of as high as 60 m/sec were tested with payload fractions of as high as 75%. By comparison, the nominal tumbleweed ball configured for Mars would have an impact speed of about 30 m/sec with a payload fraction of about 50%.
Jack A. Jones
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Latest update: July 8, 2012