6
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Rovers normally roll off a lander, or are otherwise deployed by one. When I look at the design of ATHLETE, it isn't hard to imagine a rocket engine bolted underneath it, and ATHLETE's legs doing the job of absorbing landing impact and steadying itself. Given ATHLETE's robotic abilities, it also isn't hard to imagine it then unbolting the rocket engine and driving away from it. This seems like it would allow a mass savings. Is it that it is too hard to protect against the heat and vapors of the engines? Have designs like this been considered?

ATHLETE robotic rover design

mock-up of ATHLETE as lander

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    $\begingroup$ But why should your rover carry around the extra weight of the now-useless rocket engine, fuel tanks, and associated machinery? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 25 '16 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf It doesn't - it unbolts them and leaves them behind. $\endgroup$ – kim holder Feb 25 '16 at 23:12
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    $\begingroup$ So you have a possibly quite complicated unbolting mechanism rather than just driving off a ramp, or (in the case of Curiousity) just severing a cable? Without detailed engineering studies, I suspect not much advantage. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 26 '16 at 6:12
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Yes, though not necessarily as the landing pads. One of its main imagined applications was to take payloads off of landers, as shown in the cartoon below. A single Athlete could do this for several payloads at the same site so that you wouldn't need another Athlete for every lander.

athlete

Also note that Curiosity landed on its wheels, so it is a lander that is a rover. (Once that system got to the terminal descent phase, Mars was essentially airless to that system.) The rocket engines were above, cut away, and flew away so there was no need to unbolt the engines from the rover.

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  • $\begingroup$ Where did that great illustration come from? $\endgroup$ – kim holder Feb 25 '16 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ Popular Science. $\endgroup$ – Mark Adler Feb 25 '16 at 19:01
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, each of those three-wheeled Athlete pieces you see in the cartoon were called Triathletes. $\endgroup$ – Mark Adler Feb 25 '16 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ I noticed the wheel that "7" points to shows a lot of flexion going over the rock. Is this an image error, or are the wheels extremely soft / flexible, for better traction? $\endgroup$ – Joe L. Feb 26 '16 at 1:15
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    $\begingroup$ The wheels are flexible. Though they are not at all "extremely soft". They are quite stiff, but there is a lot of weight on them. You would not be able to flex them with your hands. $\endgroup$ – Mark Adler Feb 26 '16 at 4:35

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