Plowing for Rover Control on Extreme Slopes
Planetary rovers are increasingly challenged to negotiate extreme terrain. Early destinations have been benign to preclude risk, but canyons, funnels, and newly discovered holes present steep slopes that defy tractive descent. Steep craters and holes with unconsolidated material pose a particularly treacherous danger to modern rovers. This research explores robotic braking by plowing, a novel method for decreasing slip and improving mobility while driving on steep unconsolidated slopes. This technique exploits subsurface strength that is under, not on, weak soil. Starting with experimental work on Icebreaker, a tracked rover, and concluding with detailed plow testing in a wheel test-bed the plow is developed for use. This work explores using plows of different diameters and at different depths as well as the associated braking force. By plowing the Icebreaker rover can successfully move on a slope with a high degree of accuracy thereby enabling science targets on slopes and crater walls to now be considered accessible.