Astrobotic’s “CubeRover” program awarded US$2 million contract by NASA

Pittsburgh-based space robotics company Astrobotic said on 2 October that it’s CubeRover – an ultralight, rechargeable planetary rover – program had been awarded a US$2 million NASA Tipping Point contract, which the company expects to provide “the final push” to bring the product to market.

According to Astrobotic, the rover is “roughly the size of a shoebox”, weighs less than five pounds and can carry its own payloads or team up with other CubeRovers as “scouts” for larger rovers and landers.

The company expects the first CubeRover to fly to the Moon aboard the Peregrine lunar lander on Astrobotic’s flagship mission in 2021, set to be the first by an American-built lander since the Apollo missions.

The CubeRover project is the only rover selected by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for a Tipping Point award. The awards look to invest in American aerospace businesses whose products are at a “tipping point” in their development, allowing NASA funding to provide a “final nudge” to completion.

Astrobotic said that the rover was named for “its unique modular, scalable design”, claiming that it will offer “a low-cost delivery service to the lunar surface, making the Moon accessible to commercial customers for the first time”.

According to Astrobotic, the contract will allow the CubeRovers to be fitted with a lighter all-wheel-drive system, a large solar array for rechanged, and standardized interfaces for coupling with various types of landers and payloads.

Astrobotic plans to partner with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to provide the CubeRover with a “smart vision system”, which would be able to adapt its resolution to specific tasks – e.g. high definition for science-based tasks and low definition for navigation – to preserve bandwidth.

The company developed the CubeRover in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University and the NASA Kennedy Space Center, with partial funding coming from NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program.

“We are honored to receive the Tipping Point award, which will enable our rovers to provide exactly the capabilities space agencies, businesses, and institutions are asking for,” Mike Provenzano, Astrobotic’s Director of Planetary Mobility, said in a statement. “We’re incredibly excited to make the CubeRover product line available to the world.”

Astrobotic “seeks to make space accessible to the world”. The company’s lunar lander, Peregrine, delivers payloads to the Moon for companies, governments, universities, non-profits, and individuals for US$1.2 million per kilogram.

Astrobotic was selected by NASA in May 2019 for a $79.5 million contract to deliver payloads to the Moon in 2021, and has over 30 prior and ongoing NASA and commercial technology contracts, a commercial partnership with Airbus DS, and a corporate sponsorship with DHL. The company is also an official partner with NASA through the Lunar CATALYST Program.

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