NASA Says the Future of Humans Exploring Mars Depends on Robot Bees—Here's Why

Monday, 02 April 2018 - 11:35AM
Space
Technology
Monday, 02 April 2018 - 11:35AM
NASA Says the Future of Humans Exploring Mars Depends on Robot Bees—Here's Why
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Image credit: YouTube

Rovers are so 20th century, and drones are so last year—NASA is looking to the future of space exploration and has a plan for studying the surface of Mars that involves a swarm of robotic bees.



According to reports, the space agency has given funding to a project called "Marsbee," led by University of Alabama researcher Dr. Chang-kwon Kang.

 

Kang describes his proposed tech as "flapping wing aerospace architectures" that would use a Mars rover as a base and recharging station.

The Marsbees would be outfitted with sensors and wireless communication devices, and would be the size of actual bumblebees, but with "cicada-sized wings."

 

"From a systems engineering perspective, the Marsbee offers many benefits over traditional aerospace systems," Kang writes. "The smaller volume, designed for the interplanetary spacecraft payload configuration, provides much more flexibility. Also, the Marsbee inherently offers more robustness to individual system failures. Because of its relatively small size and the small volume of airspace needed to test the system, it can be validated in a variety of accessible testing facilities."



Marsbees were selected along with 24 other projects as a part of the NIAC program (NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts).




Image via NASA
 

Phase I awards are given over the course of nine months and are valued around $125,000 for future analysis of a concept. Should Kang's project make it to Phase II, he and his team would be awarded more support and a larger budget (around $500,000).

 

"The NIAC program gives NASA the opportunity to explore visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions by creating radically better or entirely new concepts while engaging America's innovators and entrepreneurs as partners in the journey," said Jim Reuter of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate.



Other proposals include a hopping SPARROW robot (Steam Propelled Autonomous Retrieval Robot for Ocean Worlds), a walking balloon platform, and a self-assembling space telescope.

 

All of the concepts were obviously interesting enough for NASA to select them for Phase I, but our metaphorical money is on the bees, because we just want to see a recreation of that robo-spider scene from Minority Report, but with wings.

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