The Iris Moon Rover will be landing on the moon in 2021 to provide power, portability, and communications on the surface to support science and technical demonstration payloads. (Image Credit: Carnegie Mellon University)


Cubesats have revolutionized our knowledge of the Earth's orbit, and soon enough, a mini Moon Rover will increase our understanding of the lunar surface. As early as 2021, NASA will be launching a small rover, called Iris, as part of the lunar delivery mission orchestrated by Astrobotic, a Pennsylvania-based company. Iris is the first of a small, new and simple design called CubeRovers. Its orbital predecessors, the CubeSats, are small and semi-standardized spacecraft that are inexpensive to build and launch. In addition to 11 NASA and other private payloads, Iris is to be placed onboard Astrobotic's Peregrine lander on a United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rocket.


NASA, Aerobotic and Carnegie Mellon University are participating in the CubeRover project aiming for a 2021 launch date as part of the agency's Artemis program, which aims to put humans on the moon by 2024. Iris will fly on a private delivery run instead of being part of an Artemis mission.


"For such a tiny rover, Iris has a big mission to lead America back to the moon, and I'm so proud to lead this team of passionate students who are paving the way for future planetary robotic exploration," Raewyn Duvall, deputy program manager for Iris, said in a statement. "We're all excited for Iris's launch, to drive a rover on the lunar surface, and to see what we can discover!"


Moon Rover Iris, which is about the size of a shoebox, weighs less than 5 lbs (2.3 kg) and travels on four wheels, can drive about 160 feet (49 meters) to reveal to engineers the best way to travel over the moon's dusty surface. The drive enables the rover to travel far enough away from the landing site to document the plume effect created by the lander's exhaust system.


Iris, which is designed to provide power, portability and communications on the surface to support science and technical demonstration payloads, will also capture and transmit a rare photo back to Earth.


The Mars helicopter was attached to the center of the Perseverance rover, which will be deployed on the surface about two months after the rover lands. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)


NASA plans to launch its Perseverance rover before July 30, 2020, landing in Mars' Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021, with a helicopter named Ingenuity. The 4 lb chopper is attached to the Perseverance rover while traveling to Mars, fitting into a space that provides 24 inches of ground clearance, including the helicopter delivery system. Ingenuity will stay attached to Perseverance for two months after it lands. Afterward, they search for a flat, unobstructed area where Ingenuity performs test operations.


The chopper is designed to work for 30 sols to determine how possible it is for future missions to fly on Mars. Lessons learned from Ingenuity will guide engineers to develop helicopters in the future to assist astronauts and rovers on the surface of the planet.


The main objective of Perseverance is to search for signs of ancient Martian life and cache samples for its return to Earth in the future. Perseverance also contains technology demonstrations that could help future astronauts on Mars, which includes an instrument capable of creating oxygen from Mars' thin, carbon-dioxide atmosphere. NASA's goal is to land astronauts on the Martian planet sometime in the 2030s.


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