Low cost lunar robots to explore moon with off-the-shelf parts

The rovers come in three sizes and will be available to companies and universities for exploration, research, and resource scouting.

Luxembourg is an unlikely contender in any space race, but the tiny European country just planted its flag in the emerging sector of budget space exploration. With space robotics startup CubeRover, Luxembourg City will host and support development of next gen lunar rovers made from off-the-shelf components.

CubeRover is a spin off of Astrobotic, a space robotics company based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The CubeRover platform was developed by Astrobotic in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University under a NASA technology development contract. The idea was to create robotic access to the moon for companies, governments, universities, and non-profits at a fraction of the cost of conventional lunar exploration.

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"There is no precedent for a planetary rover and its associated flight to the Moon at this price point," says CubeRover President Mike Provenzano. "The cost of a CubeRover is an order of magnitude less than a traditional planetary rover. The CubeRover is a great tool for governments around the world to engage with our solar system and promote STEM education for the next generation of leaders in our industry."

The CubeRover prototype that came out of Astrobotic's CMU collaboration under a recent NASA contract weighed 2-kg and incorporated a novel chassis, body type, power system, and computing system made largely from commercially available off-the-shelf components. The 30 person team also produced novel flight software and navigational techniques for small rovers.

The new Luxembourg-based spinoff will develop small, medium, and large-sized CubeRovers that can be customized for specific science and exploration missions. CubeRovers are currently available for purchase as terrestrial testing kits.

The new spinoff fits into Astrobotic's plans to become the dominant lunar cargo company. A NASA partner through the Lunar CATALYST Program, Astrobotic's own lunar rover, called Peregrine, will soon deliver payloads to the Moon for public and private entities at the bargain basement price (at least, as far as space logistics goes) of $1.2 million per kilogram.

Adding small cheap rovers to that payload will entice a host of customers interested in science and lunar prospecting.

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"The CubeRover is a perfect complement to Astrobotic's lunar delivery service," says John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic. "We developed CubeRover to respond to customer feedback for a low-cost mobile rover. We are thrilled to partner with the Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy to spin out the CubeRover platform as its own enterprise."

No word yet on the cost of the various CubeRover platforms, but Astrobotic is targeting 2019 for its first long haul to the moon aboard a United Launch Alliance rocket.

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