Test Rovers Big and Small at JPL
The Earth-bound full-scale engineering model of NASA's Perseverance rover, called OPTIMISM, seems to peer down at a much smaller CADRE rover in a building in the Mars Yard at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California in June 2023.
Short for Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration, NASA's CADRE technology demonstration is slated to arrive at the Moon in spring 2024 as part of the agency's CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative. CADRE is designed to demonstrate that multiple robots can cooperate and explore together autonomously – without direct input from human mission controllers.
The development rover being tested is similar in size and appearance to the flight models of the CADRE rovers, which are still being built.
A trio of the miniature solar-powered rovers, each about the size of a carry-on suitcase, will explore the Moon as a team, communicating via radio with each other and a base station aboard a lunar lander. By taking simultaneous measurements from multiple locations, CADRE will also demonstrate how multirobot missions can record data impossible for a single robot to achieve – a tantalizing prospect for future missions.
JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages CADRE for the Game Changing Development program within NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. The technology demonstration will launch as a payload on the third lunar lander mission by Intuitive Machines, called IM-3, under the CLPS initiative, which is managed by NASA's Science Mission Directorate, also in Washington. The agency's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and its Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, have both supported the project. Motiv Space Systems designed and built key hardware elements at the company's Pasadena, California, facility. Clemson University in South Carolina contributed research in support of the project.