Planetary exploration: a geotechnical engineer’s contribution

When people talking about the planetary exploration, you may think it is an ambitious task for engineers working in aerospace engineering, satellite navigation, automatic control, telecommunications engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, thermodynamics, material science, and manufacture. But are you aware that there is also contribution from geotechnical engineers?

NASA launched two Mars exploration rovers “Spirit” and “Opportunity”  in 2003 to explore the surface of Mars. They have travelled several kilometres and sent back loads of valuable pictures from Mars. However Spirit was trapped in soft sand and stopped travelling in 2010. It is a good example showing the importance of understanding the behaviour of various terrains in the exploration of planet surfaces. Soil-vehicle interaction is an issue that geotechnical engineers could contribute to this task. The geotechnical group at the University of Surrey is currently study this issue in colaborating with Surrey Space Centre.