Electric Cars in Space! NASA’s New Space Rover Designed with the Auto Industry

When you become a mechanic, you’ll be ready to work on all sorts of cars—big, compact, off-road, supercharged and turbocharged. The one thing they all have in common is that they are designed for use on this planet. If you work for NASA, though, you may get the chance to work on vehicles that are designed for other-worldly use, such as the Modular Robotic Vehicle (MRV) prototype.

What is the MRV?

Developed by NASA in conjunction with the auto industry, this new prototype vehicle will presumably be used on the next mission to outer space (rumoured to be a Mars mission). Here are some of the features that auto technicians working on the project installed in this vehicle:

  • Remote Control Drive: There is no need for a driver in space-bound vehicles (not yet at least), so while this vehicle has a steering wheel, it’s mostly designed to be autonomous. Rovers like Curiosity move by following a set of instructions sent from Earth, but the MRV will be controlled live by NASA scientists and engineers through remote control technology.
  • Completely Electric: Many land vehicles are going electric these days, and so is this space rover, which is completely battery-powered.
  • Decent Space Speed: The MRV prototype can only go 15 miles per hour, but the idea is to bring that speed up to 40mph. While that is nothing for most earth vehicles, for something designed to operate on other worlds, it’s an impressive start.

Engineers also gave this space vehicle dynamic driver feedback, something useful both in space and for Earth drivers.

What the MRV Can Teach Earth Cars

While the focus of this vehicle is clearly extraterrestrial (NASA doesn’t really design for us here on Earth), that doesn’t mean some of what it offers cannot or won’t be adapted to vehicles produced on Earth.

The MRV has four independent, liquid-cooled wheel motors, each in its own module. These independent wheel motors allow the driver to avoid obstacles without putting on the brakes. The space car can move sideways and even pull off some interesting parallel parking feats. It also gives the appearance of drifting, which, given the MRV’s weight and maximum speed, is quite impressive.

Have a look at the MRV in action, in this video provided by NASA. While the test vehicle does have driver’s seats and a steering wheel installed, this is mostly for conceptual purposes:

But don’t think that this means car sales training graduates will be selling sideways moving space cars soon. Ultimately, Earth vehicles have totally different technology requirements than a Mars-bound craft—one most certainly being a speed limit higher than 40mph!

Do you think the technology introduced by the MRV could benefit terrestrial vehicles? Would you like to work on space vehicles?

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