Lunar Exploration Update: NASA Successfully Tests Autonomous CADRE Rovers for Moon Mapping : Science : Tech Times

NASA successfully tested small autonomous rovers scheduled to journey to the moon and map its surface.

The US space agency’s Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration (CADRE) technology demonstration rovers demonstrate robotic spacecraft working cooperatively without human control. To imitate lunar topography, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) Mars Yard hosted the test drive.

NASA said that the tiny CADRE rovers exhibited their capacity to travel together and change their coordinated course to navigate obstacles in August 2023 testing utilizing two full-scale development models, as reported by Space.com.

The lunar rovers will survey the terrain in 3D using solar panels, cameras, sensors, and ground-penetrating radar. One rover model had a solar panel stand-in for the August 2023 test drive, while the others monitored each other’s battery levels to schedule solar array recharges.

NASA officials also conducted night drives of the CADRE rovers at Mars Yard to recreate the intense shadows and illumination the hardware will experience during lunar daylight.

Intensive Testing to Ensure Durability

To verify longevity, the CADRE rovers performed vibration and temperature testing in November 2023, after Mars Yard tests. The lunar rovers were tested on a “shaker table” and in a thermal vacuum chamber under severe air and temperature conditions.

In November 2023, electromagnetic interference and compatibility testing revealed that the rovers’ electronic subsystems did not interact with each other or the lander’s systems, confirming their resistance to electromagnetic disturbances.

NASA stated in early March that the three CADRE rovers were ready for integration with Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander after assembly and testing. The company’s third lunar lander mission, IM-3, will carry the rovers to the moon.

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NASA’s JPL engineers extensively tested the CADRE rovers to ensure lunar durability. According to a TechTimes report, to assure space travel durability, the lunar rover design was carefully evaluated. Rovers and hardware, including monitoring cameras and communication base stations, were tested carefully. These components underwent thorough environmental testing to ensure seamless functioning during the lunar mission, enabling communication between rovers and the transmission of data back to Earth.

A significant achievement of the CADRE project is the development of cooperative autonomy software, allowing rovers to collaborate as a cohesive team without direct input from Earth-based controllers. This allows autonomous teams of robots to collaborate on complicated tasks on future robotic exploration missions.

The two rovers will probe the moon’s Reiner Gamma area during the day for 14 Earth days.

More About the CADRE Program

Caltech in Pasadena oversees the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-managed CADRE technology demonstration project. NASA’s game-changing development program is overseen by the Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, DC, according to NASA’s website.

The Science Mission Directorate oversees NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) effort, which includes CADRE. NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley supported the research.

Motiv Space Systems in Pasadena developed and built project-critical hardware. South Carolina’s Clemson University provided valuable research to support the objectives of the venture.

“The project is a follow-on from JPL’s Autonomous Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot (A-PUFFER), which developed an initial version of the multiagent autonomy software that CADRE will use on the Moon. With the ability to fold nearly flat, A-PUFFER’s shoebox-size two-wheeled rovers were designed to explore hard-to-reach nooks on planetary surfaces,” according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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