NASA Tests Rover Concepts in Arizona

NASA’s recent tests of the lunar rover have taken the vehicle to its limits. Since the moon has such a harsh environment, NASA is taking all the measures possible to make sure the new rover will be prepared, such as testing the rover out using different configurations in the incredibly demanding terrain of Arizona in order to make astronauts’ transportation as comfortable as possible.

Although still in its prototype stage, one can see the progress the lunar rover project achieved so far. During mid October, during the 11th annual Desert Research and Technology Study (RATS), NASA tested their rover. It was tested by two astronauts and two geologists, split into two teams. Thanks to Arizona’s wide desert area, it was possible to test the vehicle’s different configurations in diverse situations. Though the tests took several days, the fieldwork has proved itself productive and several important conclusions were made regarding the vehicle’s abilities.

One of the configurations resembles a pickup-truck, enabling the riding members to get on and off the rover whenever they like. However, since in space there’s practically no oxygen or pressurized atmosphere, and this configuration is not pressurized they must wear spacesuits at all times. Another configuration is called the Small Pressurized Rover (SPR). In this mode, a module on top of the rover’s chassis is added, allowing the crew to sit inside the vehicle as they drive it. The advantage is that they can decide whether to put on their spacesuits or not.

The first week of tests took the rover on its longest trip yet – almost a full day. However, according to NASA the next group will stretch the vehicle’s limits even further by going on a three-day drive through the desert in the SPR configuration. The purpose is to determine whether this mode is comfortable enough for long-duration trips, as well as examining the rover’s performance during long periods of travel.

TFOT has also covered Scarab, a moon rover designed by the Lunar Rover Initiative, a group of researchers from the Field Robotics Center at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, and two of NASA’s lunar developments, an energy generator based on nuclear power and a lunar habitat. Other related TFOT stories include the Martian lender Phoenix, which was designed a couple of years ago and has landed in May 2008.

For more information on the recent tests of the new lunar rover, see NASA’s website.

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