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Students to propel Martian exploration

A group of students from Royal Grammar School, Guildford is exploring the possibilities of a scientific phenomenon to evaluate its potential for propelling a Tumbleweed Rover through the hills and valleys of Martian terrain. The project is SSTL’s contribution to this year’s Engineering Education Scheme. EES is an annual event run by The Engineering Development Trust, the largest provider of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) enrichment activities for British young people. The EES links teams of Year 12 pupils with local companies to provide students with first-hand experience in science, engineering and technology that will enable them to make informed decisions about their future. This isn’t the first time SSTL has sponsored the scheme. Two years ago SSTL supported a team from Farnborough college on a study to "Investigate possible ways of detecting earthquake precursor signals using satellites, to help us move from disaster monitoring to disaster mitigation". The constructive results of the study have been fed into the Mission Concepts team that evaluates new ideas in the innovation underbelly of SSTL.
EES team 2012
Left to right: Tom, Chris, Oliver, SSTL’s Sahand Ghanoun , Paul and teacher Dax Patel
This year, Sahand Ghanoun from the Flight Software Team is mentoring four students from Royal Grammar School, Guildford to study a "Low cost propulsion system utilising the Crookes radiometer effect". Their study will look into the possibility of using the Crookes radiometer effect as a supplementary source of propulsion for the NASA Tumbleweed Rover. The spherical Tumbleweed Rovers could be used to explore the valleys of Mars that wheeled probes are unable to reach, relying on the Martian wind to move them around, see this video. SSTL’s Mission Concepts would like to know if the Crookes radiometer effect could provide an alternative means of propulsion when the Martian wind is insufficient to move the Rovers.
Crookes radiometer
Crookes radiometer © Nevit Dilmen
The Crookes Radiometer Effect can be observed when metal vanes in a partial vacuum (like the Martian atmosphere) move when exposed to light. The vanes are painted white on one side and black on the other. When exposed to light or infrared radiation the vanes move because the black side of the vane becomes hotter than the white and transfers more heat energy (and therefore, kinetic energy) to the air molecules behind the vane resulting in a new torque in that direction. In addition, another force is exerted by the flow of the gas molecules from the cooler side to the hotter side in an effect known as thermal transpiration. A combination of wind power and the photo-thermally induced principle on which the Crookes radiometer works would cost less than solar panel powered propulsion and might make the tumbleweed rover concept viable in a shorter timeframe. The project kicked off on Friday, 4th November, when Sahand presented to the four RGS students and their teachers and gave them a tour of SSTL facilities. The programme will run until April 2012 when the team will show off their work and a report to a team of assessors.





16 November 20110 Comments1 Comment

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