Before returning humans to the lunar surface in 2024 as a part of the Artemis program, NASA plans to send several robotics missions to the natural satellite. One of them is the Astrobotic’s CubeRover, which is on its way to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, after three years of intensive engineering work.
The rover is developed in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, with input from a NASA team at Kennedy. According to Astrobotic, their joint development is the smallest and lightest commercial planetary rover ever created. The CubeRover is designed to provide an affordable mobile platform for scientific instruments and other payloads on the surface of the Moon. It is about the size of a shoebox, according to a NASA statement, weighs in at just about four kilograms, and travels on four wheels.
“Because our CubeRover is so light – in the four-kilogram range – it dramatically reduces flight cost, making the Moon more accessible to more customers,” says Michael Provenzano, Astrobotic’s Director of Planetary Mobility. “We’re also including industry-standard interfaces throughout the rover to simplify the payload integration process.”
NASA teams at the Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations (GMRO) Laboratory will now spend months testing CubeRover on the simulated lunar surface. As a part of the upcoming tests, NASA engineers will conduct a battery of mobility tests on the CubeRover on a terrain that closely mimics the mechanical properties of the lunar surface that will measure the slopes, gaps, and other surface irregularities the rover can navigate. Drop testing will ensure the rover is not at risk of tipping over during its deployment from a lander to the lunar surface.
NASA said it chose Astrobotic as a commercial partner for a future mission to search for ice concentrations on the lunar surface. This information will be very useful for manned missions after landing on the Moon. The CubeRover vehicle is designed to work with a variety of lunar surface landings and can be used in many other space missions as well.