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Slideshow: NASA's Ball Bots Explore Titan

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Ann R. Thryft
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Robots or humans: either will do
Ann R. Thryft   1/10/2014 11:38:10 AM
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I especially like the novel approach used in this design for robotic swarms/groups that might explore other planets. As far as I'm concerned, either robots or humans can bring back the pictures and data we've been waiting for: just bring it!



Charles Murray
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Re: Robots or humans: either will do
Charles Murray   1/10/2014 6:15:15 PM
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I like the last sentence of the story: "I don't care if its robots or humans that bring back the pictures and the knowledge." I feel the same way. Although human exploration is always desirable, I agree we should do it any way that enables us to get the job done. With today's technology, I'm sure we could come back with some amazing knowledge, including photos and videos for those of us who need visuals.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Robots or humans: either will do
Ann R. Thryft   1/13/2014 12:52:07 PM
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Chuck, glad there's another one of us out there :)
Regarding visuals, the first time I saw an actual photo of Mars' reddish soil, it was almost a religious experience. I had been reading about the red planet since I was 7. And by golly, it really IS red looking.

Cadman-LT
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Re: Robots or humans: either will do
Cadman-LT   1/12/2014 11:16:59 PM
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Right on Ann. Seems like a really neat idea.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Robots or humans: either will do
Ann R. Thryft   1/13/2014 12:51:35 PM
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Thanks, Cadman-LT. And TerrySmith, you're right of course--that was a slip of the keys.

TerrySmith
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Titan is not a moon of Jupiter
TerrySmith   1/13/2014 9:01:12 AM
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By the way, Titan is a moon of Saturn, not of Jupiter.

RogueMoon
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exploration by robotic proxy
RogueMoon   1/13/2014 10:23:51 AM
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Ann, it's a neat idea to use a bouncing ball to roll over the seemingly wet unpredictable surface of Titan.  (Aerostat exploration of Venus from the skies is another great idea.)  But how can you support an untried, technically challenging endeavor such as this, but condemn the manned spaceflight program on a technical basis?

Two-man teams have explored the surface of the moon on six different occassions over 40 years ago.  A manned mission would be a lot less risk as there has already been precedent set by the generations before us.  Cost maybe, but risk?  No.

You do have a point that manned exploration does bring up the excitement of old times.  "Catchy" implies lots of people can get excited about it.  Excitement justifies research and exploration ventures.  So why is the USA doing something less than "catchy" or anything that does not have as much pyschological momentum behind it?

It's too bad in these times we don't even seek to repeat the feats of generations past.  It comes down to whether people want to justify a growing space program or just pay another team to have it done by robotic proxy.   For my tax dollars, it's a poor return on investment.  It does matter to many if it's manned or not.  One is a greater mark of progress than the other.  Think of the knowledge gained if we only quit settling for less.

NiteOwl_OvO
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Re: exploration by robotic proxy
NiteOwl_OvO   1/13/2014 1:05:36 PM
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First, great article Ann and I agree 100%. It would be great to send a manned mission, but we're not quite there yet. Robotic missions, at least at first, should be able to tell us a great deal about what's out there.


RogueMoon,

Titan is too far away for manned missions. The planned manned mission to Mars will likely be a one-way trip for the people going along. We spent an average of $1.5 billion per launch for our space shuttle program. That was just going into orbit. The cost of a round-trip ticket to Mars will likely be much higher. Titan is much farther away than Mars. 1.272 billion km compared to 54 million km (at closest approach). Even if we could go fast enough to make such a trip feasible, we don't have anything to protect the hull of our spacecraft at that speed. A marble floating in space would punch a hole right through the hull at that kind of velocity. Until we come up with a deflector array or navigational shields or enhanced hull plating we're stuck cruising the neighborhood. Maybe something good will come out of Area 51.;)

RogueMoon
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Re: exploration by robotic proxy
RogueMoon   1/13/2014 2:22:20 PM
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I agree, NightOwl. A manned mission to Titan is well beyond the technology of today. It was not my intent to lament the lack of impetus to achieve that lofty goal. Ann further clarified her post. I was more speaking to the lack of an 'all of the above' strategy in space (manned vs unmanned, why not both?). We sort of had that better strategy back around the VSE days (when Griffin was running NASA) a decade ago but faltered into sticker shock and quibbles about the details. 'what do you mean space is expensive?' 'Moon/Mars' etc.... I love the new probe ideas and this kind of design thinking ought to be encouraged. Keep the posts coming on these things, Ann.

William K.
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Re: exploration by robotic proxy
William K.   1/13/2014 6:03:10 PM
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Just like those military observation drones, the use of robotic things for exploration in areas where life support would take a whole lot of effort is a better choice. If the robot carrying space craft has a misfortune we would be unhappy, but nobody would die. So there is at the very start an excellent reason to use robots. On top of that, there is much less reason to be concerned about bringing them home, except that we do want to recover those soil samples.

But I am really wondering about the afequacy of this hardware technology in two areas. That 15M/sec is only about 30MPH, and I think that probably the fall from space will produce a much higher entry speed, so the landing impact may still damage the payload. My other question is about the quite small contact area being able to support the ball high enough to roll, if the surface is dust and not strong enough to support the load. Does anybody really know if the surface can support what will be a fairly high ground pressure?

So there are some questions, although it certainly is an interesting concept.

RogueMoon
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ball size for Titan
RogueMoon   1/13/2014 7:18:44 PM
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terminal descent velocity would depend on the object cross-section and the atmospheric density profile. who knows? Titan atmosphere could be pretty thick. I'd be worried about going splat into a mucky surface and becoming stuck in a crater filling up with liquids. But that's the risk you take. Send a few different sizes and hope you get a few good landing spots. The Huygens probe hit the jackpot with that awesome sidelong view. It looked like a long stony beach down there.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: exploration by robotic proxy
Ann R. Thryft   1/15/2014 1:29:10 PM
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William, there are detailed technical papers available by following the links we gave, which may answer your questions.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: exploration by robotic proxy
Ann R. Thryft   1/15/2014 1:27:16 PM
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Thanks, RogueMoon, will do. That won't be hard, since I really love space!

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: exploration by robotic proxy
Ann R. Thryft   1/15/2014 1:25:28 PM
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NiteOwl, thanks for the balanced commentary. I wish fervently that human exploration of space were possible and feasible. But we are not there yet and until we fix the radiation and life-support issues, not to mention the need for an FTL drive, it's not going to happen.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: exploration by robotic proxy
Ann R. Thryft   1/13/2014 1:08:20 PM
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RogueMoon I didn't condemn anything. What I said was, I don't think that human exploration is likely to succeed, for multiple reasons in addition to technology, but I do think that robotic exploration is likely to succeed.
The risks are huge: how long humans can live in space since we have to take tons of stuff we need with us to make sure we as biological systems survive, the high costs of fuel (I consider that one of the risks), how to protect us from radiation (a huge problem), and the extremely slow speeds our tech can now travel at. There are others as well. If it were that easy, low-risk or economical we'd have sent people to Mars, instead of robotic rovers.
I think it's sad that we aren't doing more human exploration and (I think) aren't likely to. But personally, I'd prefer not to get excited about something I think has a low probability of happening.

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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One way Data collection only-?
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   1/16/2014 2:45:28 PM
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Very interesting, thanks Ann.  The tensegrity spheres make me think of the little clickety-click spiders in Minority Report (Paramount Pictures, 2002) .  I would think these little rovers would have to be entirely autonomous and only report back findings, since attempting to steer them seems unlikely.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: One way Data collection only-?
Ann R. Thryft   1/16/2014 5:09:16 PM
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Glad you enjoyed this Jim. I find the tensegrity concept fascinating and clever. Steering the spheres from the distance of Titan to Earth is not feasible, so my understand is that these are planned to be autonomous.

bobjengr
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NASA AND BALL BOTS
bobjengr   1/18/2014 9:56:31 AM
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Ann--I think your post demonstrates the very best thing Design News Daily does--it keeps working non-NASA engineers "in the loop" by detailing fascinating technology.   In the NIAC project report, there are twenty-six (26 ) students involved; five (5) schools "state-side" and three (3) schools from various parts of the world.  Marvelous collaboration on this one project WITH published papers spreading the information.  I hate to admit it but you are absolutely correct in you assessment that manned space flight is probably not on the books for some time to come BUT, un-manned efforts seem to be progressing nicely as demonstrated by your post.  This is fascinating technology and obviously cutting-edge.  Once again--great information.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: NASA AND BALL BOTS
Ann R. Thryft   1/21/2014 12:08:12 PM
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Thanks, bobjengr, glad this is good info for you. And thanks for the info on NIAC. I was impressed, too, by the collaboration effort on this particular project.

William K.
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Re: NASA AND BALL BOTS
William K.   7/30/2014 8:25:08 PM
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When you get enough good people working to develop a concept the results can be very impressive. That is what makes collaboration such a very great choice.

a.saji
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Re: NASA AND BALL BOTS
a.saji   7/31/2014 5:56:27 AM
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@William: Also you get different types of ideas being generated and most of the time those ideas will be put together and a final outcome will be generated out of that. 

ervin0072002
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Interesting
ervin0072002   3/20/2014 9:29:38 AM
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Interesting... Nice concept. Why not use something tried like say the wheel? This seems to be an expantion of a wire mesh wheel.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Interesting
Ann R. Thryft   3/20/2014 11:09:54 AM
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ervin007, this is a ball, not a wheel, and designed for very low gravity not Earth. The slideshow may aid your understanding.



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