Along with researchers from Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the NASA team is building a five-kg robot that is specifically designed to overcome the challenges of traversing small bodies like asteroid or a comet with low-gravity conditions and rough surfaces.

"Hedgehog is shaped like a cube and can operate no matter which side it lands on," said Issa Nesnas, leader of the team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement.

The construction of a Hedgehog robot is relatively low-cost compared to a traditional rover and several could be packaged together for flight. The mothership could release many robots at once or in stages, letting them spread out to make discoveries on a world never traversed before. The basic concept is a cube with spikes that moves by spinning and braking internal flywheels.

The JPL Hedgehog prototype has eight spikes and three flywheels.The spikes protect the robot's body from the terrain and act as feet while hopping and tumbling."The spikes could also house instruments such as thermal probes to take the temperature of the surface as the robot tumbles," Nesnas added.

Two Hedgehog prototypes -- one from Stanford and one from JPL - were tested aboard NASA's C-9 aircraft for microgravity research in June 2015.During 180 parabolas, over the course of four flights, these robots demonstrated several types of maneuvers that would be useful for getting around on small bodies with reduced gravity.

 

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