The Canadian Space Agency (CSA), which invented and made the International Space Station's 30-year robotic Canadarm project, is working on lunar and Mars robot rovers. It recently unveiled five rover prototypes and put them through their paces on the agency's testing terrain, which simulates the surfaces of Mars and the moon.
The new lineup includes four lunar rovers -- the Micro-Rover Platform with Tooling Arm, the Kapvik Micro-Rover, the Artemis, and the Lunar Exploration Light Rover -- and the Mars Exploration Science Rover. They are in addition to the Juno and Rex rovers, which have been operating since 2010.
The CSA also developed some spinoff technologies resulting from its rover development work. They include the SL-Commander automated electric all-terrain vehicle, a fuel cell, and the Q6 mini-computer.
Click on the image below to check them out.
The CSA's Rex rover has a robotic arm that simulates collecting Martian rock and soil samples. It travels at 4cm/sec (1.57inch/sec). On its six aluminum or rubber wheels, the rover can navigate over obstacles up to 15cm (5.9 inches) high and climb slopes of up to 10 degrees. Rex weighs 140kg (308.64 pounds) and measures 152 x 142 x 76cm (59.84 x 55.9 x 29.92 inches). It can carry up to 30kg (66.13 pounds) of science payloads. In 2010, the CSA jointly field tested the rover with NASA at the Flagstaff Meteor Crater in Arizona. (Source: Canadian Space Agency)
It's worth recalling that the CSA's budget is around $300 million a year, about 1/60th of NASA's budget of about $18 billion. And it seems to me that this project was done with at least one eye on terrestrial applications -- specifically, to help BRP (and other Canadian companies, presumably) to develop better consumer products, with the SL Commander being Exhibit A.
(By the way, that's why the SL Commander has a windshield; as the caption to the slide points out, it's based on work that BRP did for the Lunar Light Exploration Rover, but it's intended for use on Earth).
Since the CSA is part of Industry Canada, it makes sense for them to be promoting Canadian businesses. That's what Industry Canada is supposed to do, after all. Imagine if NASA were part of the Department of Commerce.
While the CSA may be small, Canada has a larger space presence through a number of its private companies, including McDonald Dettwiler, mentioned in the article, which recently acquired SpaceSystems/Loral. This model (a significant private sector presence, coupled with a smaller public sector, focused mainly on helping the private sector) seems to be one that some people would like to see the U.S. space program emulate.
ervin0072002, I noticed the holes and cabling as well. Maybe the intent behind these prototypes is to demonstrate Driveability Proof of Concept regarding rough terrain. Some of the designs look plain but in space functionality is what really matters.
NadineJ, I agree. Electronic Controls prototypes I've worked on were never designed for production use but for technology Proof of Concept. The cases were made of SLA material and looked like homebrew boxes but the electronics worked quite well under test. These rover designs definitely fit the category of "What If" just by their appearance.
I am used to a different environment. My prototypes go through assurance testing and have to perform same as the product that goes into certification. there is a large list of things that can go wrong during lift-off as well as space operation.
The problem with the rovers to date is the "all eggs in one basket".
I read about a concept in 1988 where you take a bunch of small "rovers" - think of the RC cars that can bounce all over the terrain or one of the small robots by Big Dog - and a "mother ship". Assume 100 of the small rovers per Mother. Assume 10..50 Mothers. The Mother would land with the small rovers, and act as a home base for re-transmitting signals, swarm coordination, and refueling (electrical power).
The rovers would be redundant - ie 10 would have lasers, 10 with soil analysis, 10 with a mass spec, etc. Mission control would give a target, the Mother would direct the right mix to the spot. Need more laser power? use more laser rovers.
The redundancy gives you a much higher success rate - you can easily lose 10% without degradation of the general mission.
So - I respectfully ask - what is the problem with this? Why not do it, esp on Mars? The Bouncy Ball rover delivery would work. We Have The Technology.
BTW - the "Flagstaff Meteor Crater" is closer to Winslow (20 miles) than Flagstaff (36 miles). Drove past it last week. Also stood on a particular corner in Winslow, AZ, such a fine sight to see.
Actually, this is a pretty good idea, Mr_bandit. Not sure it would be as cost effective as the current rover. But maybe it would, With smaller rovers, there would be less of a chance of malfunction since it would be spread across multiple units.
@ervin0072002: I think this is a difference of terminology. When they say "prototype," think "proof of concept." Actually, even that might be too strong of a term. The CSA doesn't have the means to put one of these on the Moon or Mars, even if they wanted to. These are basically just show and tell pieces that will hopefully benefit Canadian companies.
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