Perception and Navigation for Exploration of Shadowed Domains

Period of Performance: 06/17/2015 - 06/17/2016


Phase 1 STTR

Recipient Firm

Astrobotic Technology, Inc.
2515 Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Firm POC
Principal Investigator

Research Institution

Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Institution POC


On-the-ground confirmation of lunar ice will transform space exploration, as ice can provide fuel to support far-reaching exploration and enable commercial endeavors. Evidence from satellite observations strongly supports the presence of polar ice, but driving and excavation are required to confirm presence, measure distribution, and extract resources. In-situ resource extraction at the lunar poles is the precursor for permanent operations on the Moon, Mars, and beyond. The most promising sites for lunar ice lie in the rugged terrain of the permanently shadowed regions at the poles. These destinations demand robust perception and navigation technologies that provide high position accuracy regardless of lighting conditions. Existing rover technologies are incapable of the types of perception and navigation required by the challenges of a dark environment that restrict the rover's ability to perceive its surroundings and overcome inherent positional uncertainty. Even the rover's own shadow can present a significant obstacle while operating in the glancing sunlight of polar regions. The proposed work will develop novel methods for sensing, mapping, and localization in and around the permanently dark regions of planetary bodies. The research will enable the exploration of previously inaccessible dark environments including pits, cold traps, and subterranean voids such as lava tubes and caves on the Moon and Mars. NASA's decadal science survey prioritizes exploration of ancient ices, highlighting a mission to study lunar volatiles in the permanent shadows on the lunar poles. The proposed work innovates perception and navigation technologies to make such polar missions possible.