CMU’s Iris moon rover prepares for launch in 2022

Tim Angert, manager of CMU’s Robotics Institute’s machine shop, placing Iris on the payload deck. | Photo Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University’s Iris Rover aims to be the first American rover on the moon, the first student-made rover on the moon, and the smallest rover to land on the moon. Last week, it was secured to a payload deck of Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander.

Iris weighs in at only about four pounds, and it is the size of a shoebox. The small rover’s chassis and wheels are made from carbon fiber, another first for planetary robotics, contribute to the lightweight design. Iris also has cameras to help guide itself on the moon and make observations.

“It is exciting to reach this make-or-break milestone with only days left to the deadline after pursuing this goal for years,” said Raewyn Duvall, the program manager for Iris and a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering. “Success was so elusive with many development setbacks and schedule delays, and it has been hard-earned by the team. We gave this everything. Now success on the moon is up to the robot.”

The rover has a few different goals once it makes it to the moon sometime in 2022. The first is to test small, lightweight rover mobility on the moon. It is also tasked with collecting images of the moon’s terrain and rock formations for geological sciences, and collecting UWB RF ranging data for testing new relative localization techniques.

The team at CMU had to make sure the rover could pass several tests before securing it to the lander. Iris needed to be able to fit the allotted space on the lander, withstand vibrations during launch, endure the vacuum of space and survive temperatures on the moon, which can range from -298° F at night to 224° F during the day.

More than 200 CMU students over the course of three years have worked on the rover, which was originally expected to launch this year. Instead, the lander will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and land on the moon sometime in 2022.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander will be the first American spacecraft to land on the moon since the Apollo program. It will carry more than 18 payloads, including CMU’s other payload, MoonArk. MoonArk has already been secured to the lander. The artifact contains images, poems and music relating to arts, humanities and science and technologies.

Peregrine doesn’t have a set launch date. The lander will complete the first commercial mission to the moon.

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