NASA’s Next Transformational Vehicle: Shapeshifter


If you follow the news coming out of NASA, you’ve probably at least heard of Shapeshifter.  Living up to its name, Shapeshifter is a – you guessed it – shapeshifting vehicle that can do the important work of several different vehicles in one.  While it’s still in the development stages, NASA has high hopes that this impressive vehicle will make space exploration more efficient, not to mention more exciting and revealing, in the years to come.

What is Shapeshifter?

To put it simply, Shapeshifter is a robot that can transform into a variety of different vehicles.  As you can imagine, this allows it to explore a wide array of terrain while recording data that can clue us into space environments.  Shapeshifter can float, swim, roll, fly and more, meaning that anywhere it lands, it can move around with ease.

Structurally speaking, Shapeshifter is a drone-looking machine that has a large wheel on either side.  On command, Shapeshifter can break into two separate halves, each one using this large wheel as a propeller.  As of now, only a 3-D model of Shapeshifter has been produced, but things are looking promising.

Shapeshifter is one of the first projects to come out of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts which allows for funding to be given to engineers who are coming up with highly unique concepts for space machinery.  The main objective for Shapeshifter is to explore Titan, Saturn’s Moon, which, up until now, has been considered almost impossible due to the unique terrain.  Titan is unique in that scientists believe that its terrain is not all that different from that of Earth, and so NASA is eager to explore it further.  And, Shapeshifter is exactly what they need to do so, as Titan is full of steep mountains, lakes and other potentially hazardous landscapes.

Shapeshifter would be able to navigate any type of terrain, and record important data while doing so.  This would allow scientists to learn more about environments that have been considered inaccessible previously. 

Right now, a team in Pasadena, California is working to turn the dream of Shapeshifter into a reality.  But, there are still more hurdles in the future.  Once Shapeshifter has been tested, it must be sent to NASA for approval for more funding.  And, even if it receives approval, it could be a long time before it actually fulfills its objective due to the rather cluttered schedule that NASA has for the next few years.  Right now, NASA is planning to send Dragonfly, another robotic lander, to Titan, which means that Shapeshifter will have to wait in line.

Still, Titan isn’t the only space object with tricky terrain, so it’s safe to assume that if Shapeshifter gets approved by NASA, it can go on to do some pretty amazing things.  After all, this is the first shapeshifting robot that NASA will have sent into space, and the possibilities are endless.

Right Now, Shapeshifter is a 3D-Printed Prototype of Its Full Potential

Still, that hasn’t stopped many NASA enthusiasts from feeling a wave of excitement about what this robot can offer in terms of space travel and exploration.  We hope that it does receive approval so that we can follow its journey into space sometime in the next few years.  Until then, you can follow its development on the NASA website.

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