Spacecraft/Rover Hybrids for the Exploration of Small Solar System Bodies

Our objective is to develop a novel mission architecture for the systematic and affordable in-situ exploration of small Solar system bodies, which exploits a synergistic combination of remote and in-situ mobile assets. Specifically, a mother spacecraft would deploy over the surface of a small body one, or several, spacecraft/rover hybrids, which are small, multi-faceted enclosed robots with internal actuation and external spikes. They are capable of 1) long excursions (by hopping), 2) short traverses to specific locations (through a sequence of controlled tumbles), and 3) high-altitude, attitude-controlled ballistic flight (akin to spacecraft flight). Their control relies on synergistic operations with the mother spacecraft (where most of hybrids’ perception and localization functionalities are hosted), which makes the platforms minimalistic and in turn the entire mission architecture affordable. The project is funded by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program.

This webpage contains digital copies of related publications, slides from the NASA NIAC Symposium 2012, movies of our experiments, information about our team, and more.

Spacecraft/rover hybrids in a nutshell

Spacecraft/Rover Hybrid 

The mission architecture: one mother spacecraft would deploy on the surface of a small body one (or more) spacecraft/rover hybrids (from cm- to m-scale). Once deployed, the hybrids would perform attitude-controlled hops for long-range traverses (in the order of 10m per hop, steps A to B to C in the figure) and would tumble to reach specific locations (steps C to D in the figure). Each hybrid is sealed in one enclosure and internally actuated through three mutually orthogonal flywheels. Synergistic mission operations would ensure precise planning and control of the hybrids at a low development cost.


  • A detailed report about the project [report]

  • A comprehensive study of the expected science return of spatially-extended in-situ exploration at small bodies [Paper]

  • Slides presented at the NASA NIAC 2012 Symposium [Presentation]

In the press



This project brings together a strong team of experts in astronautics, human-space flight, science, and engineering from Stanford, JPL and MIT, and engages graduate students at both Stanford and MIT.

Marco Pavone 

Marco Pavone
Assistant Professor, PI
Stanford University
Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Julie Castillo 

Julie C. Castillo-Rogez
Planetary Scientist, Co-I
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Planetary Science

Jeffrey Hoffman 

Jeffrey A. Hoffman
Professor (and former NASA astronaut), Co-I
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Issa Nesnas 

Issa A. D. Nesnas
Technical group supervisor, Co-I
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Robotic Software Group

Nathan Strange 

Nathan J. Strange
Systems Engineer, Co-I
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Richard Binzel 

Richard P. Binzel
Professor, Collaborator
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

Nathan Strange 

Ross Allen
Graduate Student
Stanford University
Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics