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  • Annika Santhanam

CMU Goes to the Moon!




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Carnegie Mellon University is making history! On Monday, January 8th, 2024, the United Launch Alliance - a commercial space launch company - launched its Vulcan rocket to the moon, with a very important payload on board - Carnegie Mellon’s lunar rover named Iris!


The launch consisted of the Vulcan rocket and a lunar lander called the Peregrine that sits on top of the rocket. The lander carries several payloads, including the Iris rover. The purpose of the rover is to traverse the moon’s terrain and collect geological data about the surface!


Although the initial launch was successful, the Peregrine lander unfortunately suffered fuel loss due to an issue with the propulsion system after being put into orbit. Due to the amount of fuel lost, as of now it looks like the Peregrine lander will not be able to land on the moon. Updates are still rolling in, but even though the lander may not reach the moon, the launch itself is still historic.


Both the Peregrine lunar lander and the Iris rover were developed by students and faculty of Carnegie Mellon University, so let’s take a look at both of the innovations, the people behind them, and the leaps they’re taking in human history!


The Peregrine Lunar Lander


The Peregrine lander was developed by Astrobotic, a lunar logistics company that was founded by Carnegie Mellon University’s Professor Red Whittaker in 2007. Astrobotic was tapped by NASA to develop the Peregrine lunar lander, making it the first American, non-governmental spacecraft to head to the moon. Additionally, the launch marks the first possibility to land on the moon in over 50 years since the last Apollo mission!

The Peregrine lander’s payloads are made up of several amazing governmental projects as well as other items. Five scientific experiments from NASA are on board, designed to study aspects of the moon, including its surface and atmosphere. Additionally, five autonomous robots from Mexico, CMU’s Iris Rover, and a “MoonBox” with messages from 100,000 people globally are all stored in the lander, according to Space.com


The Peregrine’s fuel loss may mean that the payloads never reach the moon, but the scientists behind the efforts are still working on possibilities for maintenance of the lander during its trip. We can hope for the best in the meantime, and commend the multiple research and launch teams on their incredible achievements.


The Iris Lunar Rover


Carnegie Mellon’s former faculty in Astrobotic put in a lot of effort developing the lander, and the university’s students were also a big part in the development of the Iris lunar rover on board.


The rover itself is making history by being the first American, student-developed rover to head to the moon. The rover was designed by hundreds of Carnegie Mellon University students, starting work in 2017 and finalizing the design and sending it for launch in late 2023. The rover itself is actually very small - IEEE Spectrum states it’s around the size of a shoebox - and the leadership for the development of the rover is made up of current students as well as CMU alumni. 


Using lithium-ion batteries, the Iris was designed to be able to operate for 50 hours in only a 2 kilogram frame. The frame is made of carbon-fiber to make it light yet durable, and the rover is designed with cameras on either end to pick up imagery on the moon’s surface.


The Significance of the Launch


The launch and efforts by ULA and the Carnegie Mellon students and faculty signifies new efforts to bring in commercial and private groups to participate in government launches. Hopefully, the beginnings of this collaboration will bloom into bigger partnerships that allow further space travel, exploration, scientific findings, and innovation!


Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more articles!


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