CubeRover is a class of planetary rover with a standardized modular format meant to accelerate the pace of space exploration. The idea is equivalent to that of the successful CubeSat format, with standardized off-the-shelf components and architecture to assemble small units that will be all compatible, modular, and inexpensive.
The rover class concept is being developed by Astrobotic Technology in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, and it is partly funded by NASA awards. The Principal Investigator of the program is Andrew Horchler. In June 2019, Astrobotic Technology was awarded US$79.5 million to carry 14 payloads to the moon, including a CubeRover, no earlier than July 2021; this mission is currently scheduled to launch in 2022. This would make Carnegie Mellon University the first university in the world to fully develop a lunar rover and the first American entity to successfully pilot an unmanned lunar vehicle.
The idea is to create a practical modular concept similar that used for CubeSats and apply it to rovers, effectively creating a new standardized architecture of small modular planetary rovers with compatible parts, systems, and even instruments so that each mission can be easily tailored to its objectives. The rovers are expendable and do not use solar arrays for electrical power, depending solely on non-rechargeable batteries. This allows it to be lighter, have a larger cooling radiator panel for electronics, and have a simpler avionics design.
The CubeRover program intends that standardizing small rover design with a common architecture will open access to planetary bodies for companies, governments, and universities around the world at a low cost, while increasing functionality, just as the CubeSat has in Earth orbit. This would motivate other members of the space exploration community to develop new systems and instruments that are all compatible with the CubeRover's architecture.
|Mission type||Technology demonstrator|
|Operator||Astrobotic Lab and Carnegie Mellon University|
|Spacecraft type||Robotic lunar rover|
|Manufacturer||Planetary Robotics Lab|
|Dry mass||33 kg (73 lb)|
|Dimensions||Height: 103 cm|
|Power||100 W from 0.5 m2 solar panel|
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||2022 on the Peregrine lander|
|Launch site||Cape Canaveral SLC-41|
|Contractor||United Launch Alliance|
|Landing site||Planned: Lacus Mortis|
|Two cameras with 1936 × 1456 resolution|
In May 2017 Astrobotic Technology, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, were selected by NASA's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) to receive a $125,000 award to develop a small lunar rover architecture capable of performing small-scale science and exploration on the Moon and other planetary surfaces. During Phase I, the team built a 2-kg rover and performed engineering studies to determine the architecture of a novel chassis, power, computing systems, software and navigation techniques.
In March 2018, the team was awarded funds to move on to Phase II, and under this agreement, Astrobotic will produce a flight-ready rover with a mass of approximately 2 kg (4.4 lb) that will fly on Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander to the Moon in 2022.
In future missions, CubeRovers may be designed to take advantage of lander-based systems to shelter for the cold lunar night, that lasts for 14 Earth days. Similarly, future larger CubeRovers may be able to incorporate thermal insulation and systems qualified for ultra-low temperatures.
A spinoff company was created in 2018, called CubeRover, and it is based in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. Its president is Mike Provenzano. The company has support from Luxemburg and it is expected to collaborate with local universities and companies. It is hoped that it will become a hub for small planetary rover design, manufacture, and assembly, as well as a shop.
The first derivative of a CubeRover, a spinoff rover called Iris developed by CMU students, is planned to be deployed on the Moon on board Astrobotic's Peregrine lander in 2022.