Astrobotic and CMU Will Design Small, Cheap CubeRovers NASA Funding Could Establish New Paradigm for Extraterrestrial Robots

Byron SpiceFriday, May 5, 2017

This artist’s rendering shows a CubeRover moving away from a lunar landing vehicle.

NASA has selected lunar logistics company Astrobotic Technology, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, to develop a new class of small, lightweight rovers — called CubeRovers — capable of small-scale science and exploration on extraterrestrial surfaces.

The CubeRover, weighing no more than 4.4 pounds, would establish a new standard for extraterrestrial robots, much as the development two decades ago of small, inexpensive satellite platforms called CubeSats made low earth orbit accessible to companies, universities and governments around the world.

"CubeSats revolutionized the frequency and economy of missions to orbit," said William "Red" Whittaker, professor of robotics and chairman of Astrobotic. "CubeRovers will similarly revolutionize surface exploration. In planetary robotics, small is the next big thing."

Teams of small rovers can survey more efficiently than a single, large rover, and mission risks can be reduced by spreading capabilities among multiple, low-cost rovers. CubeRovers acting as scouts, for instance, can identify safe paths into regions that are risky for large, expensive primary rovers.

The Astrobotic and CMU researchers will receive $125,000 for the first six-month phase of the program. They will design a CubeRover capable of evaluating lunar lander ejecta and characterizing surface mobility.

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