CMU's tiny robot rover passes NASA design review ahead of 2021 trip to the Moon

Darrell Etherington

Carnegie Mellon University is one step closer to operating its robotic rover on the surface of the Moon: The school's diminutive bot has passed a crucial NASA design review, performed by the agency in collaboration with Astrobotic, whose Peregrine lunar lander will be providing the ride for the robot down to the surface of the Moon on a mission set for 2021.

The positive result from the design review did include a few design tweaks that the team will now implement as it moves from prototype to flight-ready rover, a process that's designed to take place this summer. That version will be stress tested for conditions during the launch and flight to Moon, to ensure its own safety and the safety of other payloads on board the Peregrine lander, which is taking a number of experiments to the lunar surface on behalf of NASA.

CMU's rover, dubbed Iris, weighs roughly four pounds, and it's about the size of a large toaster. It'll get the distinction of becoming the first U.S. robotic rover to explore the surface of the Moon, however, should it make its flight target. Eventually, it also could pave the way for a line of "CubeRovers," or tiny, relatively inexpensive rovers that could contribute to a range of scientific investigations and endeavors, both public and private, without breaking the bank.

Iris has four wheels, but also two video cameras, which represent the main sensor loadout for the little robot. Camera miniaturization means that it's a lot easier to collect quality image and video data from even small robot exploratory platforms, which is great news for companies like Astrobotic that hope to kickstart a whole new market of private deep space exploration using lightweight, affordable lander platforms like Peregrine.