Astrobotic heading to the moon with NASA, Carnegie Mellon collaboration
American space robotics company, Astrobotic, and their partner Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are heading to the moon after NASA awarded the collaboration US$5.6 million to build an autonomous lunar rover capable of providing high fidelity 3-D maps of the moon’s surface.
MoonRanger – as the bot will be called – is expected to fly to the moon as early as 2021 or 2022 thanks to an upcoming mission organised through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services programme.
The project hopes to expand the scope for exploration on the moon. The rover’s high-speed and light weight will enable it to provide detailed maps of difficult to access areas of the surface, allowing scientists to explore lunar pits, characterise ice, and investigate magnetic swirls. MoonRanger will also be used to deploy future mobile instruments on the lunar surface in preparation for a “new era on the moon.”
— Astrobotic (@astrobotic) July 1, 2019
“MoonRanger offers a means to accomplish far-ranging science of significance, and will exhibit an enabling capability on missions to the Moon for NASA and the commercial sector. The autonomy techniques demonstrated by MoonRanger will enable new kinds exploration missions that will ultimately herald in a new era on the Moon,” said Carnegie Mellon Professor Red Whittaker.
Whittaker is also the founder of Astrobotics which was spun out of CMU back in 2007. The space robotics company seeks to make space accessible to the world and they already have a string of successful projects done in partnership with NASA.
Their lunar lander, Peregrine, delivers payloads to the Moon for companies, governments, universities, non-profits, and individuals for US$1.2 million per kilogramme. This is a service NASA just paid the company US$79.5 million to carry out for them for 2021 Moon missions.
— CMU School of Computer Science (@SCSatCMU) June 6, 2019
The company also has more than 30 prior and ongoing NASA and commercial technology contracts, a commercial partnership with Airbus DS, a corporate sponsorship with DHL, and 29 payloads signed on for Peregrine shuttle’s first mission to the Moon.
US President Donald Trump has been sending mixed messaging on his desire for further Moon exploration.
In May, Trump asked Congress to increase NASA spending next year by an extra US$1.6 billion as a “down payment” to accommodate the accelerated goal of returning Americans to the surface of the Moon by 2024.
For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon – We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2019
But by the first week of June, his tune seemed to change with the president criticising the agency for its shortsighted approach to space exploration and, instead, pushing them to look to Mars as the next big project.
NASA, however, is continuing unabated with their mission to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024, with the aim of developing a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028. Astrobotic and CMU look set to play a significant part in that.