Skylights and Lava Tubes

Skylights are formed by partial cave ceiling collapse on planetary surfaces. Lava tubes are a type of cave that forms when lava develops a continuous and hard crust that thickens forming a roof above the flowing lava stream. This project developed a rover concept and strategy for exploring skylights and lava tubes.

New discoveries of skylight holes on Mars and Moon offer first-ever access to planetary caves. These hold the prospect for geological discoveries, human safe havens, and signs of prior life. However, these environments present major challenges to existing space robotic systems. Lava tube exploration requires robots to be able to traverse rough terrain, navigate over large obstacles, ascend and descend very steep slopes, and survive in caves. The video above depicts the rover concept and strategy for exploring skylights and lava tubes.