Next year, NASA aims to send three small rovers to the moon to evaluate their ability to perform autonomous activities.

The mission is scheduled to launch in 2024 as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, with the goal of demonstrating how NASA’s Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration project may increase mission efficiency by utilizing robots that function without direct human direction.

“Our mission is to demonstrate that a network of mobile robots can cooperate to accomplish a task without human intervention — autonomously,” said Subha Comandur, project manager for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s CADRE.

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Mission commanders will issue broad commands to a 13-foot-tall command base atop the main lander, which will then allocate commands to the three rovers, which NASA described as roughly the size of a carry-on suitcase.

According to CADRE chief investigator Jean-Pierre de la Croix, the commanders will just give the rovers a “high-level goal” and they will figure out how to achieve it on their own.

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“The only instruction is, for example, ‘Go explore this region,’ and the rovers figure out everything else: when they’ll do the driving, what path they’ll take, and how they’ll maneuver around local hazards,” de la Croix explained.

The rovers will drive in formation and use their sensors to detect and navigate around hazards on the moon.

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A camera mounted on the lander will track the rovers’ progress as they accomplish missions.

The lunar expedition could pave the way for future human space exploration.

“By taking simultaneous measurements from multiple locations, the rovers are meant to show how multi-robot missions could potentially enable new science or support astronauts,” NASA explained.


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