Could the Next Planetary Rover Come from Canada?

Prototype of the new Juno rover, a 300 kg rover for a mission to Mars or the Moon. Credit: CSA

The Canadian Space Agency is well known for its robotics but they’ve recently expanded from robotic arms to building prototypes for five new rovers, designed for future lunar and Mars missions. They range from microrovers to full-sized science missions and range in size from 30 kg up to 900 kg. The largest of them, the Lunar Exploration Light Rover, is designed to carry a scientific payload and can be fitted with a robotic arm. It has a range of 15 km, can be operated remotely, or can be used to carry astronauts across a planetary surface.

A version of the Juno rover with tires. Credit: CSA

The two Micro-Rover prototypes, at 40 kg and 30 kg., are designed to be operated in conjunction with larger rovers, and can be tethered to them and lowered into otherwise inaccessible areas.

“On the Moon, permanently shadowed craters provide many interesting areas to find water and other volatiles, Jean-Claude Piedboeuf, Director of Space Exploration Development at the Canadian Space Agency told Universe Today. “These craters have steep slopes making it difficult and risky for a large rover. Therefore, sending a micro-rover tethered to its mother one gives us the ability to explore the bottom of these craters with a minimum risk. Sending only a micro-rover could be an option. However, they are very slow so it is more efficient to have them on a larger rover to cover long distance and deploy them when needed.”

The micro-rovers can also be used to work alongside astronauts, to gain access to small spaces like caves.

The rovers should be mission-ready by about 2020, and NASA is already interested. Most missions to Mars and the Moon involve geology, and sometime in the future, mining. For instance, NASA has an experiment under consideration that entails digging up soil on the Moon and making hydrogen and oxygen out of it. These designs are intended to fit in with those types of activities.

Space robotics technology has long been a point of pride for Canadians, Canadarm was a fixture on the Space Shuttles and made it possible to do things like deploying satellites like the Hubble Space Telescope and was instrumental in building the International Space Station. CSA also built the huge Canadarm 2 and Dextre, the highly dexterous dual-armed robot, both of which reside on the International Space Station. More recently, CSA contributed a robotic arm and other equipment to Curiosity, the newest NASA rover to land on Mars.

Artemis is a light-weight terrestrial prototype that can either be operated by a human nearby or at a remote location, or use its onboard sensors to scan its environment and navigate without the need for a human operator. Credit: CSA

The new rover designs will add to the fine lineage of Canadian space robotics. Once they are deployed on missions to the Moon or Mars, they may end up elbowing the Canadarm and Dextre out of the spotlight. If they do take centre stage, no feelings will be hurt. Many of the same people who worked on the Canadarms and Dextre are involved in the development of the rovers.

“MDA (MacDonald, Detwiler and Associates) was the prime contractor for Canadarm and Dextre and is prime on three rover prototypes,” said Piedboeuf.

With these rover prototypes, CSA has avoided the one size fits all approach to rover design.

“The fleet developed by the Canadian industry for the CSA covers the range of applications we envisage and that will be welcomed by our international partners,” said Piedboeuf.

Though the CSA doesn’t anticipate any other rover designs, these 5 prototypes could be focused “on more specific applications such as in-situ resource utilization or science,” explained Piedboeuf.

If you find the unveiling of 5 new rover prototypes exciting, you’re in good company.

“People in industry, academia and within the CSA were excited to develop these rovers that could be one day on the Moon or Mars,” said Piedboeuf. “The opportunity of working on prototypes of space rovers with challenging requirements and advanced autonomy was a great motivation.”

See more images and information on the fleet of rovers at CSA’s website.

A Memorial to 9/11… on Mars

Today, on the 11th anniversary of the World Trade Center attack, countless hearts and minds will be reflecting upon a day that changed our world forever and remembering those who lost their lives in the tragic collapse of the twin towers. Memorial events will be held in many locations around the planet… and even, in a small yet poignant way, on another planet. For, unknown to many, two pieces of the World Trade Center are currently on the surface of Mars: one affixed to the rover Spirit, now sitting silently next to a small rise dubbed “Home Plate”, and the other on its sister rover Opportunity, still actively exploring the rim of Endeavour crater.

Even more than scientific exploration tools, these rovers are also interplanetary memorials to all the victims of 9/11.

(The following is a repost of an article first featured on Universe Today in 2011, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.)

In September of 2001 workers at Honeybee Robotics in lower Manhattan were busy preparing the Rock Abrasion Tools that the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity would each be equipped with, specialized instruments that would allow scientists to study the interiors of Martian rocks. After the World Trade Center attacks occurred, the company wanted a way to memorialize those who had lost their lives.

Through what was undoubtedly some incredibly skillful use of contacts, Honeybee founder and MER science team member Stephen Gorevan – on a suggestion by JPL engineer Steve Kondos and with help from the NYC mayor’s office and rover mission leader Steve Squyres – was able to procure two pieces of aluminum from the tower debris. These were fashioned into cylindrical cable shields by a contracted metal shop in Round Rock, Texas, and had American flags adhered to each by Honeybee engineer Tom Myrick.

The image above, taken in 2004, shows the cable shield with American flag on the Rock Abrasion Tool attached to Spirit. At right is an image of the flag shield on Opportunity, acquired on September 11, 2011.

The rovers were launched in the summer of 2003 and have both successfully operated on Mars many years past their planned initial mission timelines. Spirit currently sits silent, having ceased communication in March 2010, but Opportunity is still going strong in its exploration of the Martian surface.

“It’s gratifying knowing that a piece of the World Trade Center is up there on Mars. That shield on Mars, to me, contrasts the destructive nature of the attackers with the ingenuity and hopeful attitude of Americans.”

– Stephen Gorevan, Honeybee Robotics founder and chairman

These memorials will remain on Mars long after both rovers have ceased to run, subtle memorials to thousands of lives and testaments to our ability to forge ahead in the name of hopefulness and discovery.

Original source: OnOrbit.com

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Photo of Manhattan taken from orbit on September 11, 2001. (NASA)

A Martian Memorial to 9/11

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the September 11 World Trade Center attacks (has it already been ten years??) countless hearts and minds will be remembering the fateful day our world changed forever, and the many people who tragically lost their lives in the catastrophic collapse of the twin towers. Memorial events will be held in many locations around the world… and even, in a small yet poignant way, on another world. For, unknown to many, two pieces of the World Trade Center are on the surface of Mars: one affixed to the rover Spirit which sits silently in its permanent position near a small plateau called “Home Plate” and the other on its sister rover Opportunity, currently exploring the rim of the vast Endeavour crater.

Much more than scientific exploration tools, these rovers are also interplanetary memorials to the victims of 9/11.

In September of 2001 workers at Honeybee Robotics in lower Manhattan were busy preparing the Rock Abrasion Tools that the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity would each be equipped with, specialized instruments that would allow scientists to study the interiors of Martian rocks. After the World Trade Center attacks occurred, the company wanted a way to memorialize those who had lost their lives.

Through what was undoubtedly some incredibly skillful use of contacts, Honeybee founder and MER science team member Stephen Gorevan – on a suggestion by JPL engineer Steve Kondos  and with help from the NYC mayor’s office and rover mission leader Steve Squyres – was able to procure two pieces of aluminum from the tower debris. These were fashioned into cylindrical cable shields by a contracted metal shop in Round Rock, Texas, and had American flags adhered to each by Honeybee engineer Tom Myrick.

The rovers were launched in the summer of 2003 and have both successfully operated on Mars many years past their planned initial mission timelines. Spirit currently sits silent, having ceased communication in March 2010, but Opportunity is still going strong in its exploration of the Martian surface.

“It’s gratifying knowing that a piece of the World Trade Center is up there on Mars. That shield on Mars, to me, contrasts the destructive nature of the attackers with the ingenuity and hopeful attitude of Americans.”

– Stephen Gorevan, Honeybee Robotics founder and chairman

The image above, taken in 2004, shows the cable shield with American flag on the Rock Abrasion Tool attached to Spirit.

These memorials will remain on Mars long after both rovers have ceased to run, subtle memorials to thousands of lives and testaments to our ability to forge ahead in the name of hopefulness and discovery.

Read the full story by Keith Cowing on OnOrbit.com.

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech