Astrobotic gets $5.6m NASA contract to develop MoonRanger rover

Private American space robotics company Astrobotic has received a $5.6 million contract from NASA to help develop an autonomous lunar rover called MoonRanger. The development will take place in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, according to Astrobotic, which received the contract under NASA's Lunar Surface and Instrumentation Technology Payload (LSITP) program.

NASA is planning a future Moon mission under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program that will send the MoonRanger rover to the lunar surface. According to Astrobotic, the new contract means the rover will be ready to make its trip in either 2021 or 2022, underscoring the rapid rate at which NASA is aiming to return to the Moon's surface.

The MoonRanger will weigh around 28lbs and be designed to generate high-fidelity 3D maps of the lunar surface, particularly its pits and polar regions. The robot will be able to investigate the magnetic swirls and characterize the ice at lunar pits, as well as deploying future mobile instruments on the Moon's surface, the company said in its announcement today.

Astrobotic says that due to its 'modest' mass and size, the MoonRanger will be a test platform to help 'usher in a new era of operability in space.' In particular, the rover's autonomous capabilities will pave the way for new types of future Moon exploration, marking a new type of return to the celestial body.

Talking about the new contract was Astrobotic CEO John Thornton, who said:

This latest NASA award to develop MoonRanger for a mission to the Moon is another example of how Astrobotic is the world leader in lunar logistics. Our lander and rover capabilities are designed to deliver our customers to the Moon and allow them to carry out meaningful, low-cost activities for science, exploration and commerce.