Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lots and Lots of Rovers Looking for Missions

The October 20th, 2012 Canadian Press article "Canadian Space Agency's prototype space rovers unveiled" which covered the Canadian government  press conference promoting a fleet of about a half-dozen prototype space rovers described as "the forerunners of vehicles that may one day explore the moon or Mars," might be exaggerating the importance of both the press conference and the Canadian rovers.

After all, these rovers currently have no buyers and no mission. One or two may even have been unveiled before.

There are also a lot of rover prototypes being developed in a great many places around the world these days. Any major space agency with a real, funded mission needing to utilize rover technology has it's pick of these prototypes and many rover programs are even privately funded.

In essence, Canadians have a great deal of competition in the area.

Take, for example, this October 8th, 2012 WTAE Action News report on the Carnegie Mellon Robotocs Institute entrant in the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP).

According to the news report "this is a robot developed right here in Pittsburgh and the plan is to send it to the Moon" to compete against 24 other "privately funded" teams attempting to do the same.

The Polaris Lunar Rover, designed to prospect for  ice on the Moon.

According to the news report, the Carnegie Mellon entrant (competing under the Astrobotics banner and called the Polaris Lunar Rover) is about seven feet long and eight feet wide, which is about the size of the largest Canadian design. As outlined in the October 10th, 2012 Red Orbit article "Polaris Lunar Rover Sets Its Sights On Google X Prize" the expected launch date is October 2015, which is substantially sooner than any of the Canadian rovers.

And this is only one of two dozen possible competitors for the $30 million USD available from the GLXP prize.

Even better from a fiscal viewpoint is that the eventual GLXP contest winners will receive their prize only after they've successfully completed the mission. The GLXP doesn't need to spend any money until someone lands an actual working rover on the Moon.

This is sightly different from the Canadian approach to funding.

The Artemis Jr. lunar rover, built by Ontario based Provectus Robotics Solutions, the Neptec Design Group and others to meet the requirements of NASA's Regolith & Environment Science and Oxygen & Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) project and unveiled to Canadian's on Friday. It's also designed to hunt for water, ice and other lunar resources.

Funding for the Canadian rover program was part of the 2009 Economic Action Plan, which allocated $110 million CDN over three years to the CSA for development of the next generation Canadarm (which received $53.1 million) and for Canadian rovers (which received most of the rest). As outlined in the December 5th, 2011 Commercial Space blog post "Canadian Space Rovers on the Chopping Block," the CSA funding for the Canadian rovers ran out on March 31st, 2012.

Of course, there are also other rover designs openly available for the smart shopper.

The September 13th, 2012 IEEE Spectrum article "Huskies on Mars? University of Toronto Developing Planetary Rover" mentions yet another Canadian alternative while the August 22nd Moon Daily article "Chinese firm to send Spanish rover to moon in 2014" suggests that the skill-set required to build rovers is widely available internationally.

It will be interesting to see which rovers end up on missions to the Moon and Mars over the next few years. After all, the competition is heating up.

The complete NASA Resolve lunar rover with an Artemis Jr. chassis and payload as described in the June 13th,  2012 CollectSPACE article "NASA's RESOLVE: Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction." Evidently, this specific rover was also unveiled in June 2012.

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