Astrobotic’s CubeRover successfully completed more than 150 mobility tests inside a 120-ton enclosure designed to mimic the surface of the Moon. These tests will further inform the final wheel design of all three sizes of the scalable CubeRover line.
Because CubeRovers are smaller than any rover that has operated on the lunar surface, only estimates from prior NASA missions with large rovers could inform initial engineering efforts. With eleven sets of wheels to test, the Astrobotic crew headed to NASA Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) to conduct maneuverability and traction force testing on the lunar dust simulant.
“This is really a new frontier Astrobotic is exploring – we are pushing the understanding of small-scale mobility on the Moon. Larger rovers and smaller rovers interact differently with lunar regolith simulant,” says Troy Arbuckle, Planetary Mobility Lead Mechanical Engineer at Astrobotic. “The data we collected is invaluable. Two sets of wheels exceeded testing expectations, informing our path forward to continue maturing the CubeRover line.”
Astrobotic partnered with KSC under a $2M Tipping Point contract with NASA to conduct testing in KSC’s Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations laboratory. The lab consists of a flour-like dust that compacts to a hard rock when compressed. Draw bar pull, slope, and point turn testing data collected from the CubeRover sensors and other hardware informed the performance of CubeRover wheels in an analogue lunar environment. Some wheel sets were capable of climbing 30-degree slopes while others successfully navigated and turned in deep regolith.
“The team at KSC has been extremely accommodating and knowledgeable. They got down and dirty moving around the lunar regolith to diversify our testing on CubeRover. We are all looking ahead for more opportunities to work together. We decided to drive the CubeRover alongside KSC’s RASSOR rover to simulate how RASSOR could dig a trench and CubeRover could drive in, collect samples, and drive back out,” says Astrobotic’s Troy Arbuckle.
Astrobotic will continue work optimizing the shape and size of CubeRover’s wheels. Additional testing will continue at Astrobotic headquarters in Pittsburgh to verify rover deployment methods, solar panel deployment, thermal vacuum survivability, launch survivability, and more. Efforts for CubeRover will culminate in a high-fidelity engineering unit, followed by a flight qualified product in 2022.