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NASA’s Next Moon Rover Is the Size of a Suitcase

As the date when humans will return to the Moon inches closer, NASA is accelerating the pace of its tipping point investment program, aiming to help mature the technologies it sees fit for its purposes. Last week, the agency announced it would fund the projects of 14 companies, including Astrobotic’s upcoming CubeRover.
Tiny Astrobotic Moon rover gets extra NASA funding 1 photo
Aside for the landers and spacecraft that will likely swarm on and above the Moon surface in the next decade, NASA needs a host of specialized rovers for exploration and other tasks.

The CubeRover is just one of such machines currently under development in laboratories across the world. It is being developed by Pittsburgh-based company Astrobotic with the help of Carnegie Mellon University, and already received funding earlier this year through the Phase II SBIR Award.

This time, NASA is pumping an additional $2 million into the program, hoping Astrobotics will have it ready by the time of the next Moon launch, possibly in 2021.

If ready by then, the tiny rover will have to prove its worth by being able to host payloads and interface with multiple large landers.

As per Astrobotics, the machine will be capable of performing long-range exploration missions as well, provided they do not exceed one week in length. If they do, the lunar night could descend upon it and damage the rover due to the very low temperatures.

Astrobotic’s rover is the only such machine to have gotten NASA tipping point investments at this stage. The other technologies selected involve cryogenic propellant production (Blue Origin, SpaceX and OxEon Energy, and Skyre), sustainable energy generation (Infinity, Paragon, TallannQuest), propulsion systems (Accion, CU Aerospace, ExoTerra), autonomous operations (Blue Canyon), and avionics (Intuitive Machines, Luna Innovations)

“These are important technologies necessary for sustained exploration of the Moon and Mars. As the agency focuses on landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024 with the Artemis program, we continue to prepare for the next phase of lunar exploration that feeds forward to Mars,” said in a statement Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

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