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Scientists develop new breed of space vehicle

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This is a screenshot from a simulation showing an 85-hop mission segment on Mars (145 km total traverse with one week between hops). Photo: Hugo Williams, Richard Ambrosi and Nigel Bannister, University of Leicester.

LEICESTER, UK (BNS): Scientists and engineers at the internationally acclaimed Space Research Centre of the University of Leicester are developing a conceptual motor design for a Mars 'hopping' vehicle which will lead to a greater understanding of the 'Red Planet'.

The University of Leicester has been working with a number of collaborators including Astrium Ltd in the UK and Center for Space Nuclear Research, Idaho, USA.

The focus is to develop a large-scale (400 kg) Mars Hopper concept that can fly in 1km 'hops'.

"The improved mobility and range of a hopping vehicle will tell us more about the evolution of Mars and of the Solar System and may answer questions as to whether there was life in the past, whether Mars was wetter in the past and if so where that water went," Dr Richard Ambrosi, at the Leicester Space Research Centre, was quoted as saying in the University news report.

According to the researchers, the Hopper can collect fuel between hops by compressing gas from the Martian atmosphere and can fly quickly between sites, powered by a long-life radioisotope power source. It could therefore study hundreds of locations over a lifetime of several years.

"The Hopper is different from other rovers because of its power source. In one mode the heat source generates electric power to drive a compressor to gather the carbon dioxide propellant from the Martian atmosphere. The heat source then stores thermal energy and injects it into the propellant, which is accelerated out of a rocket nozzle to provide thrust," added Dr Nigel Bannister.

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