All eyes on Space-Start-Ups: Team Tumbleweed

Team Tumbleweed has a clear vision: Deep Space for Everyone. With their “Tumbleweed” Mars Rover, they aim to bring a new approach to Mars exploration. But what exactly does that look like?

The beginnings of Team Tumbleweed are similar to those of many start-ups: school friends in a small garage with a big idea - but the latter is anything but conventional. As part of a school project for the Odysseus Space Contest, three students developed their first Tumbleweed prototype, a mechanically simple, wind-powered Mars Rover. The strong Martian winds can carry a whole swarm of them across the Red Planet.

Winning the competition at both the regional and international level, coupled with extremely positive feedback, motivated the group to continue working on the project. It was not long before they managed to secure the voestalpine as a major supporter and even got to test their improved prototype at the ÖWF's AMADEE18 Mars analogous mission in an Oman desert.

The following years brought huge developments for both the team and the rover: Grown to almost 90 members, the team has completed the third prototype, which will go on another Mars analogous mission to Israel in October 2021. Since 2020, Team Tumbleweed has also been part of ESA BIC Austria. Members across the globe are working on every aspect of the project, from structural design to business development, towards their dream of making Mars exploration faster, large-scale, and more accessible.

Unlike conventional Mars rovers, the Tumbleweed Rover does not only allow the team to collect data on the Red Planet: Interested organizations and scientists can work with the team to develop sensors, which are then integrated into the rovers using payloads. The concept aims to provide a platform for anyone who wants to take their first step towards Mars.

For the prototype, in addition to researching the ideal implementation of these payloads, the focus over the past year has been on developing the necessary foundation for the space-grade version. The technologies required partially exist. These can be bought in, the rest is developed by the team. Team Tumbleweed wants to cover a large area of expertise, including structural elements, mechanisms, computing architecture, and mission design. Thus, in addition to the rovers, products are created that can be sold for research or to satellite manufacturers before the Mars mission begins.
The years to come are already fully planned out: While most of the team will initially be working on requirement reviews and structural elements, from 2024, the efforts will focus on the design of the Mars mission and integration of payloads. The launch is scheduled for early 2029. There is still a lot to do before then, but Team Tumbleweed is enjoying every step on its road to Mars.