In recent years, space agencies worldwide have shown an increasing interest in the exploration of small solar system bodies. Of special importance is direct access to their surfaces, as it allows precise characterization of soil properties and surface physics, and, in turn, holds the potential to lead to a much improved understanding about the origins and evolution of the solar system.
Surface exploration of small bodies, however, presents daunting technological challenges. In this talk, Dr. Pavone will discuss past attempts together with recent advancements in the field of microgravity planetary rovers, including wheeled rovers, legged rovers, tethered robots, and hoppers. When tasked with operation in microgravity, these rovers must be able to function in unprecedented conditions, where traction is almost non-existent, environmental characteristics are extreme, and sharp regolith, boulders, and loose dust are dominant features of the landscape. In the final part of his talk, Dr. Pavone will focus on a reference mission to Phobos, whose aim would be to address both high-priority science objectives identified for Mars' moons and strategic knowledge gaps for future human exploration in the Martian system.