NASA’s VIPER Prototype Navigates a Simulation of Obstacles on the Moon – Madrid Deep Space Communications Complex

He braved quicksand-like ground in the “sump tank”, scaled the “sloping bed”, and conquered rocks and craters. NASA’s VIPER (Volatile Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) prototype has undergone the most realistic tests yet to navigate the toughest terrain it will traverse during its mission to the Moon’s south pole.

Engineers have developed the latest mobility engineering test unit from the VIPER, called Moon Gravitation Representative Unit 3 (MGRU3) at the Laboratory for Simulated Lunar Operations (SLOPE) at NASA’s Glenn Research Center (in Cleveland). This MGRU3 includes specially designed rover motor controllers, essential hardware elements of the rover’s mobility system that control the motors that send power to all four wheels of the rover.

“Unlike most car motors, which use a throttle and brake to speed up and slow down all four wheels, VIPER’s motor controllers spin the vehicle’s wheels with the force and speed drivers need, with extreme precision to enable better performance,” he said. Arno Rogg, test manager and mobile systems engineer at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California. “These tests allowed us to verify the performance of the rover’s mobility system and know that it will work well on the Moon.”

The tests also helped engineers determine how the rover will perform in the harsh lunar surface conditions.

“We wanted to see if the rover is able to move forward in an extreme sinking environment, and how fast VIPER could travel or how much extra power the rover would use due to the difficult ground conditions,” said Mercedes Herreras-Martinez, manager. risks. Head of VIPER technical exchanges and mission systems engineering at Ames.

Using the latest version of the rover’s software, engineers also tested the prototype’s ability to “turn” or move its wheels in a special coordinated, caterpillar-like manner that helps the rover lift off. The prototype rover has also demonstrated that it will stop moving on its own if it approaches a slope too steep to climb or if it ever loses its location on the Moon.

“We got a lot of data from these tests about what happens when the rover’s wheels slide on rock or skid on soft ground, and its sensors pick up when the rover drifts slightly,” Rogg said.

All terrains simulating the Moon and other hazards encountered by the prototype rover were methodically and deliberately placed in the SLOPE laboratory following the recommendations of the VIPER science team. The engineering test team then carefully selected soil simulants, hand-selected rocks, and even carefully engineered the shape and size of the craters to realistically mimic the actual surface characteristics of the Pole.

In addition to testing the rover’s ability to drive in difficult terrain, another goal was to test the rover’s performance in the lunar terrain the team expects to encounter most of the time.

“Using data and images from previous lunar missions, we created several random scenes to mimic the surface terrain of the Moon, with craters and boulders of varying sizes and shapes scattered across SLOPE’s tilted bed,” said Kevin May, mission system and rover engineer. to Ames, who led the preparation of the ground for the test. “With the help of the VIPER science team, which generated cut-out models of crater profiles, we were able to form terrain features and shape craters with the highest precision ever seen. By recreating similar realistic environments to those on the Moon, we can get a much better idea of ​​how VIPER will behave on the surface.”

VIPER’s engineering test team uses lunar soil simulators and hand-selected rocks to shape the terrain to realistically mimic real-life surface features at the Moon’s south pole.
Credits: NASA.

Original news

Edition: R. Castro.

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