- For months, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has worked with a concept car company and a TV network to design and build a Mars rover.
- The unnamed vehicle was built for the site’s visitor complex and debuted in early May.
- Though it’s a demonstration vehicle for educational use, it was designed to be as realistic as possible.
Since late 2016, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, an unnamed cable television network, and a company that builds concept vehicles have been quietly collaborating to build a full-size Mars rover.
Video and images of the completed vehicle started appearing on social media sites on May 9, following an official unveiling of the unnamed rover in Florida that day.
One clip shared on Instagram shows the rover, which resembles the Batmobile from the movie “Batman Begins,” slowly idling around a road in front of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex:
So “what is this beast,” as one Reddit user asked?
Marc Parker, a designer and builder of the new rover, told Business Insider that it’s a six-wheeled, all-electric vehicle that was created for NASA “with every intention” of overcoming obstacles on the sandy, rocky red planet.
However, the unnamed rover will never roll across Mars. According to Parker, NASA plans to take it on a cross-country tour of the US for the space agency’s upcoming “Summer of Mars” — an educational event designed to inspire the public about space exploration and interplanetary travel.
Marc and his brother, Shanon, began building the rover around November 2016, after NASA approached their company, Parker Brothers Concepts, with the idea. Marc says that he and Shanon launched their business about five years ago to build “outlandish” vehicles for television and movie productions. (“We’re the guys they call when everyone else says ‘it can’t be done,'” Marc says.)
But Marc says NASA didn’t fund the rover, whose cost he wouldn’t provide, nor is the US space agency the only party involved in the project.
“We’re also filming for a reality television series that’s going to be coming out about this build,” Marc told Business Insider. While he’s under a non-disclosure agreement with the TV network, Marc says it’s “one of the bigger cable networks.” (An Instagram photo shared on Shanon’s account shows members of the “Mythbusters” TV shows, which airs on the Discovery Channel.)
Inside the Mars rover prototype
Parker Brother Concepts made the concept rover from scratch from about November 2016 through early April 2017.
The two owners and a few of their employees, plus a number of suppliers they deal with, worked tirelessly on the project.
“Me and the guys, we averaged about 80 to 100 hours a week, each. We worked 10-, 12-, 14-hour days, seven days a week since late last year,” Marc says. “If I thought about how many hours we put into this thing, I’d probably cry. It’s way too many.”
Marc said he needed to check with NASA and others before sharing images of the vehicle, since a formal announcement is forthcoming. However, he and Shanon have posted several teasers on their Instagram accounts.
The above video posted to Instagram by SeaDek, a marine product supplier that worked on the rover with Parker Brother Concepts, shows the interior of the vehicle. Another video provides a view of the rover lit up in the dark:
Other images posted by those involved reveal other features.
For instance, below is a photo of the six 50-inch-tall, 30-inch-wide wheels, which Marc said are designed to let the fine sands of Mars slip through:
A Facebook post by the company shows the same wheels under construction:
Another photo shows the window of the rover with carbon-fiber accents and a NASA logo:
And this image gives a front view of the vehicle inside the fabrication shop of Parker Brothers Concepts:
A faux research rover build for Mars
A NASA spokesperson told Business Insider that the project “is not really a NASA-affiliated thing” and is run by its independently operated Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. (Representatives at the visitor complex did not immediately return our calls.)
According to Marc, NASA gave his company a few parameters for the vehicle and had two schools of thought for it: either a small scout vehicle “for four astronauts to investigate, explore, and get test samples” or a “full research laboratory”.
The company started with an electric motor, solar panels, and a 700-volt battery and built the vehicle around that, Marc says, “since there’s no gas stations up there” — and decided to tackle both concepts at once.
“What we actually came up with was a dual-purpose vehicle. It actually separates in the middle. The rear section is a full lab, the front area is a cockpit for going out and doing scouting,” he says. “The lab section can actually disconnect … and be left on its own to do autonomous research. That way the scout vehicle can go out to do its thing without the fuel consumption and extra weight, then come back later.”
While the cab is lined with earthly “creature comforts” such as GPS, air conditioning, and radio, Marc says the body is made entirely out of aluminum and carbon-fiber to keep the weight down. He says it hasn’t been officially weighed, but estimated the rover — which is 28 feet long, 13 feet wide, and 11 feet tall — will come in at about 5,000 pounds.
“A Honda Civic weighs about 3,500 to 4,000 pounds, and a 5,000 pounds is about the weight of a pickup truck,” he said, emphasizing that the concept vehicle is very light given its size and capabilities.
Marc says that while the rover could drive as fast as 60-70 mph, it’s designed to roll along at 10-15 mph or less, since it’d be used to methodically roll over dunes, rocks, craters, hills, and more. He added that each wheel has an independent suspension to overcome such obstacles with ease.
Of all the projects that Marc says he and his brother have worked on, he said “this one has blown us away the most.” He hopes it inspires NASA and the public alike to dream big about the future of space exploration.
“Movies are cool, TV is cool, but it’s something else to be part of a thing that could inspire kids to go Mars and live in outer space,” he says.