Seattle-based deep-space engineering-services firm First Mode has landed a contract from NASA to design and develop a prototype moon rover, called Intrepid, that would travel the furthest distance of any rover in the space agency’s history.
The planned prototype plutonium-powered rover is being designed as part of a mission-concept study for a potential long-term lunar-surface expedition designed to establish a human colony on the moon’s surface.
“Intrepid will identify hydrogen (a proxy for water content) in the lunar regolith,” states a press announcement by First Mode. “Most strategies for a sustained human presence in space require mining water to support life and provide fuel. Additionally, Intrepid will map radiation, solar wind, and the chemical makeup of the regolith, helping to ensure the safety of future astronauts.”
The NASA mission-concept study is being led by Arizona State University Professor Mark Robinson, an expert in planetary geology. He will oversee a team of scientists from multiple NASA centers and universities, along with First Mode, in designing and configuring the new rover’s systems. The value of the contract was not made public.
“The next-generation, 425-kilogram rover — roughly the size of a Quad-bike/ATV — [would] explore an unprecedented 1,800 kilometers over four years as it examines the geology of the lunar surface, preparing NASA for human exploration as it investigates over 100 major sites that have only been viewed from orbit,” First Mode states.
The new NASA contract, according to ASU’s Robinson, “provides the means to iron out details of the rover design and science strategy, which ultimately could lead to Intrepid being included in a future mission competition.”
First Mode, based in downtown Seattle, applies deep-space exploration technologies to a variety of industries, both on and off planet Earth. Chris Voorhees, president and chief engineer of First Mode, worked previously as a lead engineer for several of NASA’s Mars-rover missions.
In a related development, earlier this month First Mode and Western Washington University announced they had secured a contract from NASA to develop geological-research technology that will help advance scientific understanding of Mars surface and its history as NASA prepares for its Mars 2020 Rover mission.
The automated technology being developed as part of that contract, called a goniometer, will make possible extremely accurate 3D measurements of rock samples at different angles. The work is being funded by NASA’s Planetary Science Division and the resulting technology, including the goniometer design and software, will be released publicly.