Astrobotic to develop CubeRover standard for planetary surface mobility
Astrobotic Technology, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, has been selected by NASA to develop CubeRover, a class of 2-kg rover platforms capable of small-scale science and exploration on planetary surfaces. The selection will help to establish a new standard for small-scale surface-deployable science and exploration platforms.
Astrobotic, which was spun out of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute in 2007, is a Pittsburgh-based low-cost planetary/lunar logistics company established to deliver payloads robotically to the Moon for companies, governments, universities, nonprofits, and individuals. The company’s spacecraft accommodates multiple customers on a single flight, offering lunar delivery at a benchmark price of just $1.2 million per kilogram.
The demonstration of CubeRovers is intended to democratize planetary surface mobility, driving the space community to commoditize systems, components, and instruments while lowering costs and increasing functionality. Affordable and standardized planetary rover surface deployments will accelerate the pace of space exploration, realizing NASA science objectives and scouting sites for future human settlements.
The NASA selection to develop CubeRover comes on the heels of the announced dollar-for-dollar matching program that Astrobotic will provide for free payload deliveries to the Moon via the company’s Peregrine Lunar Lander. For every payload selected by NASA to fly on Astrobotic’s first mission, set for late 2019, Astrobotic will provide an additional flight to payload providers on the company’s second mission at no charge. The second mission is currently scheduled to fly in 2021, and Astrobotic will match payload reservations up to $12 million. This new cost-sharing program is in response to the agency’s RFI call for small lunar surface payloads.
“For too long, NASA’s science and exploration programs were forced to operate in a one-and-done paradigm,” said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic. “Past missions to the Moon have unveiled incredible findings, but rapid follow-up with additional measurement and observation was impossible. With this new public-private cost-share program, Astrobotic will speed up the pace of discovery.”
The company continues to work closely with industry partners on the development of its Peregrine Lunar Lander. NASA is providing Astrobotic access to some of the best spacecraft engineers and facilities in the world, as part of its Lunar CATALYST Program. Airbus DS brings world-class spacecraft experience in human spaceflight and exploration and leverages previous lander development work with the European Space Agency. Aerojet Rocketdyne is supplying Peregrine’s propulsion system, featuring next-generation space engine technology. Deutsche Post DHL Group is the “official logistics provider” for the first mission to the moon.
The 2.5 x 1.5 m (8.2 x 4.9 ft) Peregrine is being engineered to deliver 35-kg (77-lb) payloads to lunar orbit and surface on each mission. Payloads can be mounted above or below its decks, and can remain attached or deployed according to their needs. During orbit and landing, cameras, IMU (inertial measurement unit), and LIDAR sensing enable the craft to perform an autonomous safe landing within 100 m (330 ft) of the target.
Its propulsion system has four tanks surrounding a cluster of five Aerojet Rocketdyne ISE-100 engines whose attitude control thrusters orient the craft. The main engines are concentric with the spacecraft central axis and perform translunar injection, trajectory correction maneuvers, lunar orbit insertion, de-orbit, brake, and descent.
Peregrine avionics achieve terrestrial computing speed with high reliability. Rugged, radiation-tolerant computing enables autonomous landing with unprecedented precision and safety in the demanding space environment.
The lander’s GNC (guidance navigation & control) system uses heritage algorithms enhanced by recent developments in navigation with machine vision. Peregrine also uses off-the-shelf sensors and algorithms for navigation during cruise and orbit. It determines position and attitude from radio time-of-flight, Doppler, sun sensor, star tracker, and the IMU. On approach to the Moon, Peregrine switches to the Astrobotic Autolanding System, which uses proprietary techniques for precision navigation.