the Modular Utility Vehicle (MUV) is a concept for an unpressurized Lunar Rover. MUV is a feasible design for a modular, upgradeable, telerobotically operated and manned rover for navigating the Lunar South Pole. Designed for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Competition, its capabilities include payload deployment, water-ice sample collection, geologic analysis, and terrain mapping. The defining aspect of this modular approach allows for future mission requirements and objectives to be met. The modular aspects of the vehicle allow it to perform multiple tasks at once, either as a singular unified vehicle, or to be broken into smaller components and used singularly or as a swarm. This allows significant flexibility of vehicle management and the eventual deployment of habitation and scientific structures on the Lunar surface. Modularity also increases redundancy, and adds options for mitigating vehicle damage, failed components, or emergency return to the lander. The basic vehicle design is made up of a single chassis. The chassis has an outfitted mass of approximately 150kg and can support 30x its own weight. Nominally operated in pairs of two, each chassis provides two payload bays, two utility bays, 1.6kWh of batteries, computers, keep alive functions, communications, and four external connections to mate-up with more chassis, drive mechanisms, or robotic manipulators. Payload bays provide the vehicles’ primary interface though the installation of human drive controls, science packages, or capability expansions such as extra batteries to help it to survive the 14-day long Lunar nights. The vehicle has a minimum range of 20km, assuming no assuming no solar power availability to recharge the batteries. Actual range is estimated to be between 47km and 100km depending on lighting conditions and use. The general operational concept of the vehicle allows crews on Earth or the Lunar Gateway to perform tedious and potentially dangerous terrain mapping in preparation to receive a crew on the Lunar surface. The rover identifies areas of interest that human crews will later examine for samples and water-ice collection for eventual return to Earth. Once the crew arrives they will reconfigure the rover to operate as a human surface transportation system. Crews, both on and off the Lunar surface, will be aided in Navigation by LIDAR, terrain mapping, auto-drive features, and augmented reality. Most technologies are at a readiness level 9, and many have a flight-proven history. No significant advancements in technology must be made for the feasibility of the design. the MUV , is a feasible design for a modular, upgradeable, telerobotically operated and manned rover for navigating the Lunar South Pole. Its capabilities include payload deployment, water-ice sample collection, geologic analysis, and terrain mapping. The defining aspect of this modular approach allows for future mission requirements and objectives to be met. The large use of COTS in the concept is one of the main design drivers.
The MUV proposal uses modularity in a new and innovative way. Rather than building a vehicle in parts due to launch vehicle necessity, the vehicle is built for expandability and versatility. The Lunar South Pole presents unknown conditions, a place where we cannot even predict what we do not know. Rather than attempt to justify a large and expensive “do everything” rover, and solicit proposals for science packages, assemble, launch and integrate it all into the Artemis program within a 3-year limit, the MUV lays a foundation for growth and expansion. This allows for new science to be developed, delivered, and integrated into later Artemis missions without having to start design and development all over again. The discoveries of each mission will dictate the additions and science packages that fly in later missions so that the useful life of the vehicle becomes indefinite as parts are upgraded, added, and replaced as necessary. Our team performed trade studies comparing the advantages and challenges of building an all-up rover versus a modular one and discovered that while an all-up rover may be a considerably less challenging design, it will be significantly less useful and future-proof. It is not adaptable to future needs, technological improvements, or updated mission requirements. A singular and more typical asset like NASA’s upcoming VIPER rover can function exquisitely for the job it is initially tasked for, but once that mission is completed the usefulness of the vehicle significantly diminishes without a possibility to integrate new functions or deploy new scientific payloads. This uniquely expandable architecture allows for three mission Phases to grow and adapt along as the Artemis program progresses. The modularity likewise opens up new possibilities of human-robot inter-action, exploration, safety, and redundancy.
MUV Rover inherits the same modularity typical of the new generation military vehicles. The different subsystems are treated as independent, interchangeable units. To pursue this objective, MUV is based on a central chassis that is the main structural unit of the rover. The chassis includes two different kinds of interfaces, that are used to connect the modular hardware units to the structural core. The Hotdock interface: a Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) docking system produced by Space Applications LTD. It provides structural connection, power, and data transfer with the mobile units and other modular chassis. Each Chassis is provided with 4 Hotdock interfaces. The Payload Slots: each square slot hosts the standardized 750mm payload Box. The slot also provides power, data, and fluids exchange with the payload boxes and their content. There are two payload slots in each chassis. Both Payload Slots and Hotdock interfaces can be operated by human crews or robotically, to achieve maximum flexibility. The modularity ofMUVhas two purposes: it allows mission-specific requirements to be met, adapting the vehicle structure to new tasks and increasing the reliability of the system, grants the capability to easily swap malfunctioning components.
As NASA prepares to return people to the moon for the first time in nearly half a century, we will enter a place no human has ever visited before – the Lunar South Pole. A strange place of constant twilight, eternally dark shadows, and eternally lit peaks; the sun always skirts the horizon, and light and shadow differ by 300°. But hidden within this eternal dusk lies a resource critical to humanity’s next steps into the solar system: water. For astronauts to safely live and work in such an extreme environment will require major risk-minimizing strategies. We must understand what is there, both as a reasonable method of ensuring our astronauts’ safety, and also as laid forth within the RASC-AL requirements: must provide a method of transportation, create maps, develop infrastructure, find safe places to land, and identify and study areas of interest and high priority science. Responding to these unique challenges in such an unusual environment requires a unique, innovative, and flexible solution: modularity. We need to build a rover that has what we need, when we need it, and retain the capability to upgrade and improve the vehicle as the mission dictates. Split the operations between telerobotics and human inter-faces, and capitalize on strengths that each mode presents. In addition to the general usefulness and functionality on the Lunar Surface, the design must meet reasonable engineering requirements set forth by NASA andRASC-ALL.The rover must be ready to meet the 2024 boots-on-the-moon deadline, weigh less than 300kg, and cost less than$300mil. All functions, manned and unmanned, must be included within these constraints. The rover is also to be unpressurized, able to transport two people, and function for a minimum of 6 days on the Lunar surface. After the crew departs, the rover is to revert back to robotic modeRASC-AL. Since the initial proposal, the team made several critical improvements inMUVdesign: the chassis design was upgraded after performing finite element analysis; we estimated power requirements per each pay-load and proposed power management with embedded redundancy; after acquiring mass properties for each of the MUV components and assemblies we performed a realistic mass estimate4. We confirmed with providers of the proposed science package and MUV systems that all equipment is at least at Technology Readiness Level (TLR) 6 or higher.