NASA's Squishable 'Super Ball Bot' Could Explore Titan

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Landing a rover on another planet has never been easy. Even at its best, the process can require careful choreography of multiple landing stages and involve parachutes, airbags, and retrorockets. Once you've landed, your wheeled spacecraft will face obstacles of its own, including steep terrain and sand traps.


The NASA Ames Research Center suspect there might be a way to make solar system exploration much simpler and cheaper, by embedding science instruments inside a flexible, deformable robotic exoskeleton.


This spherical structure might be able to land without assistance, absorbing most of the shock of impact itself and so saving mass needed for more complex landing gear. Once the spacecraft has reached an extraterrestrial surface, it could use this same structure to roll around without wheels, propelling itself by making slight tweaks to its shape.


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The design, called the Super Ball Bot, relies on the concept of tensegrity, an approach to building structures that first emerged in the art world. 


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