California Startup Astrolab Unveils Space Rover, Pitches It for NASA’s Artemis Moon Mission

A Los Angeles-area startup based by a veteran spaceflight robotics engineer on Thursday unveiled its working full-scale prototype for a next-generation lunar rover that is simply as quick as NASA’s previous “moon buggy.” however is designed to do far more.

The corporate, Venturi Astrolab, launched pictures and video displaying its Versatile Logistics and Exploration (FLEX) automobile flying over the rugged California desert close to Loss of life Valley Nationwide Park throughout a five-day discipline take a look at in December.

Astrolab executives say the four-wheeled, car-sized FLEX rover is designed to be used in NASA’s Artemis program, aiming to return people to the moon as early as 2025 and set up a lunar colony time period as a precursor to sending astronauts to Mars.

In contrast to the Apollo-era moon buggies of the Seventies or the present technology of Mars robotic rovers designed for specialised duties and experiments, FLEX is designed as a multipurpose automobile that may be pushed by astronauts or remotely operated.

Constructed round a modular payload system impressed by standard container delivery, FLEX is flexible sufficient for use for exploration, cargo supply, website building and different logistical work on the moon, based on the society.

“For humanity to truly live and operate sustainably off Earth, there must be an efficient and cost-effective network from the launch pad to the ultimate outpost,” mentioned the Founder and CEO of Astrolab, Jaret Matthews, in an announcement asserting the rover. growth.

If NASA adopts FLEX and its modular payload platform for Artemis, it could change into the primary passenger-capable rover to criss-cross the lunar floor since Apollo 17, the final of the unique six US manned missions to the moon, in December 1972. .

The Apollo 17 lunar roving automobile set a lunar velocity report of 11 miles per hour (17.7 km/h). FLEX can transfer simply as quick.

The Apollo astronauts discovered “they spend as much time off the ground as they do on it at that speed, so that’s kind of a practical limit for the moon,” the place gravity is one-sixth that of Earth, Matthews, a former NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory rover engineer, advised Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

Whereas the Apollo LRVs carried as much as two astronauts seated at its controls like a automobile, FLEX passengers – as much as two at a time – stand within the again, driving the automobile with a joystick that one or the opposite of the astronauts can maneuver.

The rover itself, with the approximate wheelbase of a Jeep, weighs simply over 1,100 kilos (500 kilograms) however has a cargo capability of three,300 kilos, about the identical as a light-duty pickup truck.

With its photo voltaic battery absolutely charged, the automobile can function for eight hours with astronauts on board and has sufficient power capability to outlive the intense chilly of a lunar night time, as much as 300 hours in whole darkness, on the South Pole. of the moon, Matthews mentioned. .

In the course of the FLEX discipline take a look at on the Dumont Dunes off-road recreation space north of Baker, California, adjoining to Loss of life Valley, the rover was piloted by retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, member of the Astrolab Advisory Board, and Michelle, an aerospace graduate pupil from MIT. Linen.

The video confirmed the couple wearing pretend house fits using the automobile over a sand dune and utilizing it to move and set up a big vertical photo voltaic array. “It was a lot of fun riding the FLEX,” Hadfield mentioned within the video.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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