MoonRanger is quite the “figure.” The small robotic rover, developed by the Carnegie Mellon Unversity, and its spinoff Astrobotic, has finished its preliminary design review in preparation for a mission to search for any signs of water at the Moon’s south pole.
MoonRanger will be the first to search for proof of buried ice on the Moon’s ground. If discovered in sufficient concentration, ice could become the most significant resource in the Solar System. Here is what you need to know.
The Water Mission and Other Plans
William “Red” Whittaker is the one who leads the development of MoonRanger and University Founders Research Professor in the Robotics Institute. He and his team approached NASA in 1996 about using robots for hunting lunar ice. They say that their vision will be finally fulfilled in 2022.
NASA will supervise MoonRanger a bit later with its more capable VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover), which will realize more accurate and scientific characterization and sustained exploration of the ice.
MoonRanger’s lander, the Masten Space Systems’ XL-1, is supported by the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services project. The bold rover will be one of eight tech and science payloads, supported by the NASA Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads mission.
The US space agency stated that the payloads support its Artemis mission, which plans to return US astronauts to the Moon in the coming years.
Recently, reviewers looked at the viability of the concept for the rover and its mission. According to Lydia Schweitzer, a master’s student in computational design and the one who led the systems engineering crew, the process needed two days and involved over 60 people, even veterans of the Apollo program. All of them offered valuable feedback and recommendations.
And if MoonRanger takes shape, Whittaker and his team will continue to get ready for a 2021 mission that involves a four-pound CMU rover dubbed Iris, and another CMU art packaged known as MoonArk. These will travel to the Moon on Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander.
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