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NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts

Nomadic Exploration: Following routes of solar sustenance and temperate climate

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Conceptual existence of circumnavigation routes was speculated in the proposing team's Phase I NIAC research, but at that time terrain model resolution was too low to enable accurate route-finding, and fidelity of terrain knowledge was too low for validation of route existence. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and Messenger missions have changed that fact: detailed surface maps now exist for the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and some asteroids, and the time is right for a great leap of viability for the visionary concept of Nomadic Exploration. The proposed research will discover and characterize the first Nomadic Routes to encircle planets, dwell at peaks, and circumnavigate asteroids. Research thrusts in sensing and planning technologies for rover energetics, speed, and autonomy will make the great leaps necessary for Nomadic expeditions like equatorial circumnavigation. Magellan Routes on the Moon will be discovered by applying resource-aware planning methodology to terrain, solar, and thermal data acquired in recent missions. These concepts will be extended to asteroids with slow orbital periods that might allow for sun following in very low gravity and for seasonal polar missions to Mars. Demonstration of critical concepts will occur in simulated and physical test-beds tuned to emulate the parameters of terrain, illumination, temperature and gravity essential for these missions.

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