Rocket City Space Pioneers Take a Hop Forward
By Pete Paceley, GNC Lead, and Bobby Cohanim, RSCP Technical Director; Draper Laboratory The Rocket City Space Pioneers (RCSP) team is doing trade studies on a backup capability for our Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) entry that could literally take a massive leap forward in the competition. The GLXP winner needs to land on the Moon, travel at least 500 meters, and then send back data. But what if an entrant lands on the Moon and its rover is unable to move its wheels? RCSP recently elected to assess the technology developed by teammate Draper Laboratory that could allow the landing vehicle to travel the entire distance needed to win the competition in a single “hop” if the rover finds itself unable to drive. Hopping can complement a rover’s capabilities by offering the ability to cover long distances much faster, avoid obstacles, and explore areas like craters, rilles (long, narrow grooves in the Moon’s surface), and other hazardous regions that would otherwise be inaccessible to a wheeled vehicle. We recognized that the ability to hop is already built into our lander. With some additional guidance, navigation, and control software, and a few kilograms of extra fuel, we can use the lander to provide mobility by repurposing it as a hopper. This provides a way for landing and mobility combined onto one platform, which is of great benefit to the team and gives us a better chance of winning the prize. Draper has been working on the hopping concept along with students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) since 2009. Draper and the MIT students are working with a prototype called the Terrestrial Autonomous Lunar Reduced gravIty System (Talaris), and have recently demonstrated the ability to descend, as well as key technologies for navigating landers and hoppers, to senior officials from NASA as well as the U.S. Army.