Mars Wind Tumbler Robot

Wind-propelled robot for prospecting of nomadic habitat sites and continued exploration during sand storms on Mars (aka Strandbeest on Mars)

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Wind-propelled robot (with backup wheels!) for the upcoming Trans-Atlantic MDRS analogue mission (aka Strandbeest on Mars)

Mars rovers encounter problems during dust storms in two main areas: Locomotion and Mission Operations. For this robot, one of the main requirements is to move without requiring primarily electrically driven propulsion. Bio-inspiration was referenced from tumbleweeds and maple seed pods, and design inspiration from Strandbeests and the NASA Zephyr landsail for Venus. The human exploration application is to perform on the ground prospecting of sites for nomadic style of establishment of habitats. Read more in the project overview.

We're building the Mars Wind Tumbler Robot for the Trans-Atlantic MDRS Mars analogue mission launching in December 2021. 

Big thanks to the mission crew who will be helping immensely with our project. 

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Project Logs Table of Contents


Prototype #001:



  • Prototype #001 Start

    EK10/01/2021 at 15:14 0 comments

    The goals of prototype #001 are:

    1. How well does it roll?
    2. Does the bearing idea work
    3. Does it hold together?

    Above all the first goal is to start the project - make a scrappy 1st prototype!

    Work in progress - scrappy prototype #001 CAD:

    Coupling piece that is being printed:

    Pic of the prints so far:

  • Information about Martian Dust Storms

    EK02/08/2021 at 02:53 0 comments

    Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell [via 8]

    This log covers how dust storms originate, their speed, size, and duration. Additionally, what a Martian dust storm visually looks like, a weather overview, additional information, and all the sources for this. Click on 'Read More' to see the entire log.

    Information about Martian Dust Storms

    Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Why do Mars dust storms occur?

    James Shirley, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California has found that solar system dynamics play a role in global-scale dust storms on Mars (see paper here).

    “Shirley found that global dust storms tend to occur when the momentum is increasing during the first part of the dust storm season. None of the global dust storms in the historic record occurred in years when the momentum was decreasing during the first part of the dust storm season.” [5]

    “The radiative heat of sunlight reaching the surface of the planet is what drives these dust storms. As sunlight hits the ground, it warms the air closest to the surface, leaving the upper air cooler.  As in thunderstorms on Earth, the warm and cool air together become unstable, with warm air rising up and taking dust with it.

    Rising plumes of warm air create everything from small dust devils, similar to those that form in deserts on Earth, to larger continent-sized storms. These larger storms sometimes combine into the global storms, which cover the entire planet in atmospheric dust.” [2]

    What is challenging about Mars dust storms?

    “When global storms hit, surface equipment often has to wait until the dust settles, either to conserve battery or to protect more delicate hardware.” [2]

    “remain difficult to predict with climate models because the mechanisms of their onset and evolution are not well known and involve many subtle positive or negative feedbacks between the circulation and heating.” [4]

    What qualifies as a dust storm?

    Area > 10^5 km^2 and that are visually distinguishable from the surface [1]

    There are also dust devils too

    Do the storms have electricity (lightning)?

    Yes. “The storms might also crackle with electricity, which may produce reactive chemicals that build up in the Martian soil” [3]

    Do storms have rain?

    “the height at which water condenses to form clouds increases during the storm, leading to more water vapor in the upper atmosphere.” [4]

    When do Mars dust storms occur?

    During the southern hemisphere’s summer, as that is when the planet is closer to the sun and significantly hotter [2]

    “Once every three Mars years (about 5 ½ Earth years), on average, normal storms grow into planet-encircling [global] dust storms” [2]

    How long do Mars dust storms last?

    Weeks at a time, and bigger storms cal last weeks to months [2]

    3-5 sol period as observed during the mid-northern winter [12 via 11]

    Some storms have shown a 24 hour life-cycle. This one in particular, shows further evidence that some Martian weather phenomena are highly repeatable interannually. [20 via 11]

    How many dust storms on Mars have there been?

    14,974 over 8 Mars years [1]

    For global dust storms, “The Red Planet has been observed shrouded by planet-encircling dust nine times since 1924, with the five most recent planetary storms detected in 1977, 1982, 1994, 2001 and 2007” [5]

    Where are Mars dust storms happening?

    Northern hemisphere: Acidalia, Utopia, and Arcadia Planitiae Southern hemisphere: Aonia-Solis-Valles Marineris and Hellas Basin [1]

    How strong are the winds on Mars?

    “the strongest Martian storms top out at about 60 miles per hour, less than half the speed of some hurricane-force winds on Earth” [2]

    Why can the wind speed on Mars be misleading?

    “The atmosphere on Mars is about 1 percent as dense as Earth’s atmosphere.” [2]

    How fast do the dust storms travel?

    Depends on the specific storm.

    As one example, a dust storm in the...

    Read more »

  • Project Overview

    EK02/04/2021 at 19:01 0 comments


    Mars rovers encounter problems in 2 main areas: Locomotion and Mission Operations.

    Current exploration missions on Mars:

    • Take a long time to cover a significant distance
    • Are designed to avoid going in to wind storms
    • Solar power generation impacted by dust storms
    • Require extensive planning - not fully autonomous

    For locomotion, wheels on Mars:

    • Become stuck in sand
    • Can be damaged by rocks
    • Require intensive path planning

    For locomotion, aerial approaches (eg, Ingenuity):

    • Have limited payload capability
    • Unstable for precise surface operations
    • First iteration of technology being proven


    From this problem, a list of requirements were made:

    • Move without requiring primarily electrically driven propulsion
    • Travel longer distances
    • Carry scientific payloads for sampling dust storms concentration
    • Final system assembly possible by astronauts with gloves
    • Reduce likelihood of becoming stuck on obstacles
    • Passively navigate


    Tumbleweeds and Maple Seed Pods were referenced for bio-inspiration

    Design Inspiration

    Strandbeest, Zephyr, and Makani were referenced for design inspiration

    Human Exploration Application

    • The MWTR would assist when colonies of habitats are established in a nomadic style (in the future)
    • On the ground prospecting combined with data from orbiters
    • Efficient method of exploration that does not need as much day to day mission planning
    • Continue to operate in wind storm conditions

    Engineering Objectives

    • Determine feasibility of wind propulsion for planetary rovers
    • Gather data relation between sail surface area, wind speed, distance, and time by conducting Field Tests
    • Observe how this design handles obstacles, obtrusions, and steering

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