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Astrobotic awarded over $1 million to advance CubeRover payloads

Courtesy Astrobotic

Astrobotic has been awarded two contracts by NASA to support the development of payloads for future delivery on its 4U and 6U CubeRovers— presented as the world’s first line of commercial lunar rovers. CubeRovers are standardized and scalable, providing planetary surface mobility services that support a variety of scientific and commercial missions.

The first $741,000 contract will fuel work on a novel ultra-wide, non-contact Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) antenna co-developed by Astrobotic and The Ohio State University. The antenna will integrate with a prototype of Astrobotic’s 6U CubeRover, the largest of the CubeRover family, and then test its use on the ground.

Useful for both Earth and planetary science applications, the single antenna can be integrated with diverse mobile platforms to better support lightweight, affordable, subsurface science investigations. GPR tech at this small, lightweight scale is nonexistent in the space market and could enable simple and reliable characterization of lunar lava tubes, subsurface water-ice, and the location of planetary ore deposits.

The second $375,000 contract will integrate a neutron detector with a ground prototype of Astrobotic’s mid-size 4U CubeRover. The rover will house neutron-detecting technology developed by Radiation Detection Technologies, and test its use at a lunar surface analogue site. Neutron detectors are a key technology for finding lunar volatiles, like water. The neutron detector onboard the CubeRover will characterize and map the energy distribution of neutrons indicative of the presence of water ice bound in the lunar regolith. This will give scientists clues into where water is concentrated on the lunar surface, and how and when the Moon acquired its water, as well as insight into the inner solar system’s history.

CubeRovers are built in three sizes, 2U, 4U, and 6U, and are based on internationally recognized CubeSat standards to simplify payload integration efforts. The rover trio introduces an off-the-shelf mobile platform for payloads that can host an array of instruments such as spectrometers, neutron detectors, cameras, and other important scientific sensors. These instruments will support payloads for extended mission durations at a reduced weight and lower cost, demonstrating new space technologies and filling key knowledge gaps in our scientific understanding of the Moon.

“We are incredibly excited to continue maturing our 4U and 6U CubeRovers in concert with our future payload users. These contracts allow us to support increasingly robust suites of payloads that enable affordable mobility on the lunar surface,” says Michael Provenzano, Astrobotic’s Director of Planetary Mobility.

Work for both CubeRovers kicked off this month and will continue through July 2022. The contracts will culminate with a lunar analog demonstration of each CubeRover unit, making all sizes of CubeRover available for subsequent infusion into an upcoming lunar mission. With work on CubeRovers growing and with a recent $199.5 million new contract win from NASA, Astrobotic is expanding operations and growing its team. Career opportunities are available now at the Astrobotic website. The nation’s best technical talent is invited to come make history with their team.

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