Team Tumbleweed

Making Mars exploration faster, cheaper, and more efficient.
From a garage in Vienna to the Red Planet

The Tumbleweed is a new approach to Mars exploration. Tumbleweeds are wind-propelled probes that are deployed in swarms and dropped over the Martian poles. They then tumble towards the equator and collect valuable data on-the-roll. In order to plan human missions and settlements or commercial use of Martian resources, extensive knowledge of its surface is vital. The Tumbleweeds can be configured for each mission individually and provide a fast, cheap, and efficient solution to conduct scientific research. The gathered data has wide applications and can be used to create maps, select interesting research targets for follow-up missions, find useful resources, and scout optimal landing spots.

  • Faster than traditional rovers

    100 Tumbleweeds can cover more than 50% of the Martian north pole in less than 20 days.

  • Taking the cubesat idea further

    The Tumbleweed has standardized payload bays for scientific and commercial payloads.

  • Making Mars affordable

    Through mass production and modularity, we bring exploration costs down to a minimum.

  • Autonomous exploration

    Data transmission rates are limited. Our rovers know what's important to send.


Building a game changing solution
  • Shape

    The tetrahedrally arranged sails ensure optimal air-resistance and maximize the Tumbleweeds’ area of coverage. They are the result of over 100 simulations in a virtual wind tunnel and provide a drag coefficient 103% higher than that of a similar approach by NASA/JPL.

  • Structure

    The Tumbleweed is composed of high-tech materials that can endure the extreme stress during landing while remaining flexible enough to “bounce” off the surface. The arcs are made out of composite material and contain hatches for electronics. They are held together by 3D-printed titanium parts.

  • Collapsibility

    Transporting a sphere with a diameter of 5 m would be oddly inefficient. The Tumbleweed has a mechanism to collapse it into a flat sheet for transport to Mars. The spokes can detach from the aluminium connectors while remaining connected with springs. As soon as the pressure is released from the Tumbleweed they force all the parts back into their position. This would occur during descent on Mars after the Tumbleweeds are released from the heat shield. That way they act as their own parachute and eliminate the need for complicated landing procedures. We are currently collecting ideas about how to transfer this method into a mechanism viable for actual use in space.

  • Modularity

    CubeSats, small satellites with standardized, modular components, have been a huge success on Earth. They opened up space for smaller research organizations, universities, and young scientist, who contribute with their innovative ideas and profit from this valuable experience. We bring this concept to Mars. The Tumbleweed has several payload bays with standardized hardware, electrical, and software interfaces that enable simple integration of scientific and commercial payloads at an uncontested price point. Possible applications are science experiments, sensors to gain more knowledge about resources under the Martian surface, and stress tests of materials and equipment on Mars.

  • Energy

    With 6 sails that provide more than 100 sqm of surface area, the Tumbleweed has a lot of potential to harness solar power. We attached arrays of six 2 W silica solar cells on each sail. They provide more than enough electricity to power all the electronics and charge a lithium battery for night-time operations.

  • Data

    One huge bottleneck for space science mission is data transmission rates. With an optimal bandwidth of 5 Mb/s uplink to Earth that all rovers on Mars have to share, we had to develop a method to handle the 30 Gb/s generated by 100 Tumbleweeds operating simultaneously. Information about ground composition, ground color, contained objects, and special features is extracted from images and fed to an anomaly detection algorithm that merges it with the data from the other sensors and decides how urgently the data set should be transferred. The current Earth-grade prototype uses an NVIDIA Jetson TX2 for these computations, but we currently looking for space-proof alternatives.

  • Communication

    Since the Tumbleweed is rolling in a random way, we have to use omnidirectional antennas to communicate with satellites in the Mars orbit acting as relays to the Deep Space Network. We are currently discussing the benefits of communicating directly from Tumbleweed to Tumbleweed in order to relay data within the network and facilitate tracking the rovers’ location.

  • Sensors

    The Tumbleweed is equipped with numerous standard sensors, such as a barometer, hygrometer, thermometer, aerosol sensor and many more. It also features four high-resolution cameras and four infrared pixel arrays to measure ground temperature. At the moment, all of these are commercially available sensors for Earth-applications. We are currently in the process of gradually replacing them with sensors that are space-proof.

Go Back


Paving our #ROADTOMARS
February 2019

Completing, testing, and presenting the final Earth-grade prototype. Focus on finding additional sponsors and partners for the next development cycle.

September 2019

Starting the development of a Mars-grade prototype with teams at Delft University, Stanford University, and TU Wien.

May 2022

Finishing the Mars-grade version. Getting approval for a real Mars mission. Opening call for commercial and scientific payloads.

End of 2025

Concluding the production of 100 Tumbleweeds and integrating all payloads. Launching and conducting first Tumbleweed Mars mission.

Our Team

Meet the people behind Team Tumbleweed
Julian Rothenbuchner
Julian Rothenbuchner
Structural Engineering & Design
Moritz Stephan
Moritz Stephan
Software Architecture & Business Operations
Josef Pürmayr
Josef Pürmayr
Chip Design, Solar Energy System & Mentor
Amelie Finan
Amelie Finan
PR, Website & Recruiting
Dominik Schmidt
Dominik Schmidt
AI & Data Analysis

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