Carnegie Mellon University students, faculty, and alumni have developed the Iris rover, which will be the United States’ first autonomous rover on the moon.
The rover is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which is the agency’s first partnership with the commercial space industry.
Originally scheduled to launch in late 2021 or early 2022, setbacks in NASA’s moon agenda delayed the launch to spring 2022.
The rover weighs 4.4 pounds and has a chassis as big as a shoebox, with carbon-fiber wheels the size of bottle caps.
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Its mission will be primarily visual, taking images of the moon’s surface for geographic study, and testing new localization techniques as it transmits data about its position back to Earth.
The Carnegie Mellon team also plans to send an art installation called the MoonArk, a tiny time capsule filled with poems, music, pictures, and small objects.
The MoonArk is meant to convey a narrative “that is moving to people now, but also 1,000 years down the road.”
The MoonArk and Iris will be launched together on United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket and shuttled down to the lunar surface by Pittsburgh-based space company Astrobiotic’s Peregrine lander.
The launch is currently scheduled for May 4, 2022, Starwars Day, from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
Hundreds of students have worked on the Iris mission, and having a launch date on the calendar is an exciting step, according to Raewyn Duvall, a research associate at Carnegie Mellon University and commander of the mission.