Follow this link to skip to the main content NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology JPL HOME EARTH SOLAR SYSTEM STARS & GALAXIES SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY BRING THE UNIVERSE TO YOU JPL Email News RSS Mobile Video
JPL Banner
Mars Science Laboratory

Wheels and Legs

The rover's wheels and "legs"

The Mars Science Laboratory has six wheels, each with its own individual motor.

The two front and two rear wheels also have individual steering motors (1 each). This steering capability allows the vehicle to turn in place, a full 360 degrees. The 4-wheel steering also allows the rover to swerve and curve, making arching turns.

How the Wheels Move

Big Wheels Cross The Finish Line...for Now!
One of the black, cleated wheels of the Mars Science Laboratory rover.

The design of the suspension system for the wheels is based on heritage from the "rocker-bogie" system on the Pathfinder and Mars Exploration Rover missions. The suspension system is how the wheels are connected to and interact with the rover body.

The term "bogie" comes from old railroad systems. A bogie is a train undercarriage with wheels that can swivel to curve along a track.

The term "rocker" comes from the design of the differential, which keeps the rover body balanced, enabling it to "rock" up or down depending on the various positions of the multiple wheels. Of most importance when creating a suspension system is how to prevent the rover from suddenly and dramatically changing positions while cruising over rocky terrain. If one side of the rover were to travel over a rock, the rover body would go out of balance without a "differential" which helps balance the angle the rover is in at any given time. When one side of the rover goes up, the differential in the rover suspension system automatically makes the other side go down to even out the weight load on the six wheels. This system causes the rover body to go through only half of the range of motion that the "legs" and wheels could potentially experience without a "rocker-bogie" suspension system.

The rover is designed to withstand a tilt of 45 degrees in any direction without overturning. However, the rover is programmed through its "fault protection limits" in its hazard avoidance software to avoid exceeding tilts of 30 degrees during its traverses.

The rover rocker-bogie design allows the rover to go over obstacles (such as rocks) or through holes that are more than a wheel diameter (50 centimeters or about 20 inches) in size. Each wheel also has cleats, providing grip for climbing in soft sand and scrambling over rocks.

Rover Speed

The rover has a top speed on flat hard ground of 4 centimeters per second (a little over 1.5 inches per second).

Reading the Rover's Tracks
The straight lines in Curiosity's zigzag track marks are Morse code for JPL, which is short for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where the rover was built and the mission is managed.