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ETH Zurich Advances Space Exploration with SpaceHopper Robot


  • ETH Zurich develops SpaceHopper for asteroid exploration.

  • SpaceHopper tested in zero-gravity, shows promising capabilities.

  • Robot could significantly advance celestial body research.

ETH Zurich’s cutting-edge SpaceHopper project, spearheaded by a dynamic team of students, explores new terrains in space robotics. The SpaceHopper, a uniquely designed robot, is set to revolutionize exploration on celestial bodies with low gravity such as asteroids and moons. With its advanced locomotion capabilities, it promises to overcome the challenges posed by these environments and possibly unearth clues about the universe’s origins and rare mineral resources. The recent tests conducted in zero-gravity environments signify a milestone in verifying its potential for future space missions.

Earlier robotic explorations focused primarily on wheeled robots, which tackled Martian and lunar terrains effectively. However, the unique challenges posed by smaller celestial bodies, such as their low gravity, require innovations beyond traditional wheel-based locomotion. Prior experiments and research highlighted these issues, pushing for novel solutions that could maneuver effectively in such tricky conditions. The SpaceHopper project, initiated two and a half years ago as a bachelor’s thesis and now a full-fledged research endeavor, addresses these challenges with its innovative design.

Building on the legacy of previous space explorations, the SpaceHopper integrates enhanced mobility features that allow it to hop and reorient mid-air, crucial for navigating the uneven and low-gravity surfaces of asteroids. This capability marks a significant evolution from earlier robotic explorers, which were limited to slower, more cautious movements. Comparatively, SpaceHopper aims to offer faster, more agile exploration options, leveraging its unique mechanical structure to adapt swiftly to the unpredictable terrains of these celestial bodies.

Design and Features of SpaceHopper

The SpaceHopper is designed as a triangular prism with three extendable legs, each featuring multiple degrees of freedom, enhancing its stability and movement precision. This configuration allows the robot to execute a series of complex maneuvers including hopping for long-distance travel and precise short-distance locomotion. The integration of nine motors within its legs empowers it with strong takeoff capabilities, essential for leaping over obstacles and ensuring controlled landings.

Testing and Collaboration

In collaboration with the European Space Agency’s Petri Program, the SpaceHopper team has engaged in rigorous parabolic flight tests. These tests, often referred to as “zero-gravity flights,” mimic space-like conditions and provide critical data on the robot’s performance in weightlessness. Such practical experiences are invaluable, allowing the team to fine-tune the robot’s functionalities, ensuring it can operate effectively in outer space environments.

Practical Implications of SpaceHopper

  • SpaceHopper can travel quickly over large distances on asteroids.
  • Its design allows for precise landings and efficient short-distance movements.
  • The robot is capable of carrying scientific payloads, enhancing its utility for research missions.

SpaceHopper has not only demonstrated its capability to reorient and jump under zero-gravity conditions but also shown potential as a valuable tool for future space exploration missions. Its development underlines the importance of innovative design in overcoming the challenges of space exploration. With its ability to navigate difficult terrains and carry scientific instruments, SpaceHopper could play a crucial role in expanding our understanding of the universe and exploiting extraterrestrial resources. The ongoing enhancements and tests will further refine its abilities, setting the stage for its deployment on actual space missions where it could provide unprecedented insights into the lesser-known celestial bodies of our solar system.

Samantha Reed
Samantha Reed
Samantha Reed is a 40-year-old, New York-based technology and popular science editor with a degree in journalism. After beginning her career at various media outlets, her passion and area of expertise led her to a significant position at Newslinker. Specializing in tracking the latest developments in the world of technology and science, Samantha excels at presenting complex subjects in a clear and understandable manner to her readers. Through her work at Newslinker, she enlightens a knowledge-thirsty audience, highlighting the role of technology and science in our lives.

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