NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Imagine a revolutionary way to remotely control the environment surrounding one or more roving vehicles exploring remote and unexplored areas of the Solar System, such as the dark interiors of craters or the depths of caves on Mars, the Moon, or Mercury. We call our solution “TransFormers” - multifunctional platforms that can change their shape and function and can enable new classes of in-situ planetary missions at massively reduced cost. Unfolding to large areas, they can reflect solar energy, warming and illuminating targets, powering solar panels, tracking movement and acting as a telecommunications relay.
Placed on the sunny rim of a permanently-shadowed crater, or at the entrance to a cave, Transformers can be used in conjunction with rover exploration, projecting a favorable micro-environment into cold and dark areas. These challenging sites are particularly exciting and scientifically interesting. For example, water found in the permanently shadowed areas of craters on the Moon or Mercury can reveal clues about planetary formation and history, and could be used as a resource for astronauts. Cave exploration on Mars offers the possibility of finding extraterrestrial life; furthermore, caves are time capsules preserving geochemical traces and may safely shelter future human explorers.
TransFormers present an innovative and highly adaptable way of improving survivability in such extreme environments. Our concept will enable unprecedented science and exploration of sites identified as a promising future direction for investigation in the most recent Planetary Decadal Survey.