Humans are one of the most curious creatures who will go beyond lengths to conquer the world and expand their horizons. We have this nature instilled within us, right from era of Homo Sapiens to Vikings. To learn more about universe and its celestial bodies we sent spacecraft, probes, orbiters, humans and even animals to various space missions. As time progressed, we gradually discovered that sending mobile robots aka Rovers is more practical than sending liable spacepersons on these highly prime and costly missions. Rovers are Robotic devices to explore extra-terrestrial areas which may be semi or fully automated and equipped with camera, antennas, Lasers, robotic arms, spectrometer etc. These instruments help in collection of samples such as dust, soil, rocks, and even liquids which are essential in space exploration. With other countries like China, UAE on their way to launch future missions to space, the use of rovers will only increase to test and experiment the surface of these celestial bodies. From Lunokhod rover to moon by USSR in 70s, to Perseverance to Mars by NASA, there are great examples of how humans are always able to find their way to progress and learn from their previous to march ahead towards the unknown territory.
Here are compact details of their instruments and current status of rovers sent to Moon and Mars: –
These missions were early attempts of various nations to learn about the lunar surface and to win the Space Race which were predominant in era of (1960-1980). These rovers were examples of how with limited technology and resources, humans still prevailed and achieved these successes. Here are some rovers which were sent to our own satellite Moon
- Lunokhod-1: boarded on USSR’s Luna 17 spacecraft, it was one of the first successful rovers to land on any celestial body. It was launched on November 10, 1970 and landed on 17th of same month. It was equipped with antennas, laser devices, x-ray spectrometer and telescope, cosmic ray detector. It has other devices too to test soil samples of lunar body. It was powered by batteries which were charged by solar cell which were recharged during day. Travelling a distance of 10.5 km, it remained operational for next 11 months till October 4 1971, where it returned more than 20,000 TV images and 206 high-resolution panoramas. In addition, it performed 25 lunar soil analyses.
- Lunokhod-2: was the 2nd rover of USSR Lunokhod program in Luna 23 spacecraft in January 1973. The 2nd rover was more advanced than the former in ways such as- it had an electric system of motor and brake and suspension system with eight wheels. It had 3 TV Camera which were sending images with different frame rates. Solar panels were used to charge batteries. It had lots of another features of Soil mechanics tester, radiometer, magnetometer etc. On June 4th, it was announced that its mission was completed as it operated for more than 4 months and covered a distance of 37 km, taking 86 panoramic and 80,000 TV images while conducting soil tests.
- Yutu : was first Chinese Lunar rover launched in Chang’s 3 mission to moon which was launched on 1st December 2013 and landed on moon on 14 December. It included lunar surface topography & material composition with geological survey. It’s equipped with a robotic arm with panoramic cameras, an infrared spectrometer and an alpha particle X-ray spectrometer. In addition, it could transmit live video, and has automatic sensors to prevent it from colliding with other objects. Energy was provided by two solar panels mounted on it. It’s ground penetrating radar found evidence for a minimum of 9 distinct rock layers. It set the record for the longest operational period for a rover on the Moon working for 31 months, till 3 August 2016.
- Yutu-2:launched on 7 December 2018 and landed on moon on 3 January 2019 which is still operational. It had first soft landing on the far side of the Moon and longest fully functioning rover on the Moon. It is solar powered with six wheels while being equipped with panoramic camera, lunar penetrating radar and infrared imaging spectrometer. This time it had an energetic neutral atom analyzer which reveal how solar wind interacts with the lunar surface to determine the process behind the formation of lunar water.
- Pragyan : was the rover of Chandrayaan-2, a lunar mission developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched on 22 July 2019. Pragyan, being onboard Vikram, was also destroyed. Rover design has a rocker-bogie suspension system and six wheels, each driven by independent brushless DC electric motors. It had a Stereoscopic camera-based 3D vision to provide the ground control team with a 3D view of the surrounding terrain, and subsystems for light-based map generation and motion planning. The rover was never deployed. The Vikram landed, carrying the rover crashed-landed and was destroyed upon impact with the Moon’s surface.
The Martian Rovers were very advanced in terms of technology and structure. NASA’s rover missions were always the most successful ones ever, in breaking new records with some of them being operational, even today.
- Prop-M Rover of Mars 2 : was the first Mars rover launched by USSR on May 19, 1971. It carried a dynamic penetrometer and a radiation densitometer. Its frame was that of a squat box and was supported on two wide flat skis and two small metal rods which were used for autonomous obstacle avoidance. It was to move in the field of view of the television cameras and stop to make measurements every 1.5 meters. The descent sequence did not operate as planned and the parachute did not deploy. The lander demised; the rover was never deployed.
- Prop-M Rover of Mars 3 : was the first Mars rover launched by USSR on May 19, 1971. It carried a dynamic penetrometer and a radiation densitometer. Its frame was that of a squat box and was supported on two wide flat skis and two small metal rods which were used for autonomous obstacle avoidance. It was to move in the field of view of the television cameras and stop to make measurements every 1.5 meters. The descent sequence did not operate as planned and the parachute did not deploy. The lander demised; the rover was never deployed.
- Sojourner : was the first wheeled vehicle to rove another planet by NASA. The First Mars Pathfinder mission was launched on December 6, 1996 that landed on July 4, 1997. It was designed for 8 sols but its mission extended up to 83 sols. Sojourner has solar panels and a non-rechargeable lithium-thionyl chloride battery of 150-watt hours. It had a 64Kb Ram CPU. It communicated with radio modem to send data to the base stations. The Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer determined the elemental composition of Mars rocks and dust, except for hydrogen. It had three cameras, comprising of 484 pixels. The rover needed the base station to communicate with Earth, despite continuously functioning even after the time communications ended. It travelled a distance of just over 100 meters by the time its communication was lost. It’s one of the popular rovers and has also been featured in Star Trek and The Martian.
- Spirit : aka MER-A or MER-2 – One of two rovers of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Mission landed on January 4, 2004. It completed the distance of 7.73 km instead of 600m which allowed for more research on Martian surface. Spirit was planned to last at least 90 sols but lasted about 2,208 sols. Its objectives were to Search for and characterize a variety of rocks and soils to determine the distribution and composition of minerals, rocks, and soils and to learn water process like evaporation, precipitation etc., and to Assess whether those environments were conducive to life. Spirit is solar-powered by solar arrays to charge lithium ion batteries. It consists of Six wheels on a rocker-bogie system to enable mobility over rough terrain. It has onboard 20MHz CPU of 128 DRAM and 256 MB memory with heater units. It had high and low gain antennas
- Opportunity : aka MER-B or MER-2 Launched on July 7, 2003 and landed on 25 January 2014, three weeks after its twin Spirit. It bagged the position of the “Longest distance travelled by any rover” and “most days operated ever” titles. Planned for 90 sols but Opportunity was able to stay operational for 5111 sols after landing and exceeded its operating plan by 14 years. Its objectives were same as its twin rover Spirit. It consists of Six wheels on a rocker-bogie system, enabling mobility over rough terrain and powered by solar cells and rechargeable lithium ion batteries. It had onboard 20MHz CPU of 128 DRAM and 256 MB memory with heater units. It had high and low gain
- Curiosity : rover of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory launched on November 26th, 2011, and landed on August 6th. Its goals included an investigation of the Martian climate and geology; assessment of whether the selected field site inside Gale has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life, including investigation of the role of water; and planetary habitability studies in preparation for human exploration. Six wheeled rocker-bogie suspension was used which also served as a landing gear. It’s powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator that produced electricity from the decay of radioactive isotopes. It had self-monitoring on-board rover computers of 256