NASA’s new rovers will be a host of mobile robots working together
On board, each rover will carry a small computer, wireless radio, and stereo camera to capture 3D imagery. While none of them alone will be able to collect as much data as a larger one, deploying several at once can reduce the risk of a catastrophic mission failure.
CADRE was developed inside NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and tested by researchers at Simulated Lunar Operations (SLOPE) Laboratory at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. SLOPE is the only lab that will test the VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover), a mobile robot that will launch in November 2023 and search for the moon’s frozen water.
One goal of the project is to prevent a recurrence of what happened to NASA’s Mars rover, Spirit, back in 2009 — the objects of dreams for space exploration enthusiasts.
One of two twin rovers sent to opposite sides of Mars in 2004, the Spirit provides some of the most detailed views of the Red Planet ever seen by man. But five years into its mission, the wheels of the Spirit are stuck in the soft Martian sand. NASA engineers worked for eight months to make it work, but after several failed tests, the Spirit was eventually transferred to service as a non -stop science platform.
To make sure the new rovers don’t get stuck, SLOPE simulates the unique terrain they have to navigate, from the powdery ground of the moon to the rocky surface of the Martian. The researchers used motion capture technology involving a pair of stereo cameras to create thousands of 3D images that were used to measure the speed of each rover and the movement of its wheels, helping them to predict how the ground will react.
“This system allows us to really identify the traction performance,” Schepelmann said. “We were able to measure how each part of the robot was moving.”
Wolfgang Fink, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Arizona who studies autonomous exploration systems, says that even rovers like Curiosity and Perseverance have limited autonomy, the transition to full autonomy through projects like CADRE will allow people to explore places we can’t. if unable to reach.
On average, communication only takes seconds to travel between Earth and the moon, but that time comes down to minutes when the message is to travel from Mars. As far as Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, communication between mission control and any lander or rover takes hours, meaning that any unexpected hitch could put the entire mission in jeopardy. The farther from home we want to explore, the more important autonomy.