Robotic vehicles designed to explore the surface of Mars tend to be big, heavy, and very costly. If they get stuck in the soft Martian sands, missions could fail. That’s why engineering students at Carleton have been working on Kapvik, a small rover that could help find the best way forward.
“One of its roles is to act as a scout rover and to pass back information it gathers to the larger, more expensive rover and basically trailblaze a path,” says Alex Ellery, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering involved with the project.
While it was inspired by NASA’s rovers, the Kapvik micro-rover is distinctly Canadian—its name is the Inuktitut word for “wolverine,” and it has a similarly tenacious, powerful construction. Kapvik has six wheels and weighs less than 30 kilograms, a limit set by the Canadian Space Agency, which is paying for the project.
A collaboration between industry and academia, Kapvik is undergoing final assembly by MPB Communications in Montreal. Its Carleton-designed chassis can roll right over rocks, and that essential feature should keep it steady when it explores the surface of Mars or the moon in the future.
An on-board winching system allows it to rappel down steep hills, it can deploy a robotic mast to gather samples, and there’s a battery of sensors to sniff the Martian “air.” Robust on-board computing power will allow it to think for itself more than conventional rovers.