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Students weigh up creep-ing around Mars

In September 2011, four sixth formers from Royal Grammar School in Guildford, embarked on an ambitious engineering challenge to see if rovers could be creep-ing around Mars in the future as part of the Engineering Education Scheme (EES). Over the following months the students, mentored by Sahand Ghanoun from SSTL’s Flight Software team have worked towards developing a low-cost secondary propulsion system for the Martian Tumbleweed Rover using the curious Crookes’ Radiometer effect and thermal creep.
L-R: SSTL's Sahand Ghanoun with Chris, Oliver, Tom and Paul.
L-R: SSTL's Sahand Ghanoun with Chris, Oliver, Tom and Paul.
After months of research and experiments to replicate the Martian environment, the project is now complete. Along with many thought-provoking prototype designs, the group have come up with a collection of useful theoretical and experimental results. They found that whilst the Crookes Radiometer effect was theoretically a viable means of propulsion on Mars, there are many factors that could make it difficult in practice:
  • Firstly, atmospheric pressure on Mars could be higher than that which the prototypes were tested with and therefore could limit the effect.
  • Secondly, any damage to the vanes could have a detrimental effect on the rate of revolution and therefore the propulsion force. Great care should be taken to ensure that there are no imperfections on the vanes.
  • Lastly, the thickness of vane and therefore of the edge area is of great importance to the spin rate and thus propulsion. Reducing the thickness to save weight (and therefore cost) would have a detrimental effect.
The RGS team with Sahand and their teacher, Dax Patel
The RGS team with Sahand and their teacher, Dax Patel
Despite these limitations the group have identified that in the future, the Crookes Radiometer effect could make for a much more effective propulsion method by employing technological advances. Recently, using nanotechnology, researchers have been able to generate a greater force from thermal creep. They made an enormous number of miniscule holes in each vane, significantly increasing the edge area and therefore increasing the spin rate. If this development could be applied to larger vanes, the group argued, then thermal creep could be a highly viable option for propelling vehicles on Mars. The group’s members: Oliver Page, Christopher Brand, Paul Tao and Thomas Whitehead each had a different strength, ranging from material science and astronomy to technology and maths, forming a good team with a broad knowledge base. After presenting their findings in April this year the group were praised especially for their enthusiasm and their great understanding of the work they had done and its context to the final application. EES is a scheme run by the Education Development Trust to encourage students to pursue a career in science or engineering. SSTL takes part in the EES scheme as a part of its broader outreach programme to inspire and aid the engineers of tomorrow.





16 July 20120 Comments1 Comment

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