Solorzano Sets Robotics Pathways to the Moon and Beyond

Thursday, November 19, 2020
Ander Solorzano standing by a lunar lander.

Electrical engineering alumnus and former robotics team leader Ander Solorzano is the lead systems engineer for Astrobotic, which is developing the Peregrine lander which is scheduled to deliver payloads to the Moon in July 2021.

Less than a decade after making autonomous ground and underwater discoveries with Rose-Hulman’s robotics team, 2013 electrical engineering alumnus Ander Solorzano is striving to help scientists confirm the existence of water on the Moon.

And, that revelation could forge pathways for future space journeys to Mars and beyond.

Solorzano is the lead systems engineer for Astrobotic, a Pittsburgh-based logistics company that’s secured more than a dozen commercial contracts around the globe, including NASA, to produce lunar delivery services. This includes the development of the Peregrine lander, which is scheduled to deliver payloads of scientific instruments to the Moon in July 2021. It will be the first American lunar vehicle since the Apollo missions.

Then, the firm’s MoonRanger, an autonomous rover about the size of a lawnmower, will search for water on the lunar surface. Next, NASA’s flagship rover, VIPER, will explore the south pole of the Moon in 2023 from the Griffin lander.

“It is exciting but challenging,” said Solorzano. “The entire world is shifting focus to use the Moon as a stepping stone to Mars. We are realizing that there are a lot of technologies required prior to attempting a significant leap forward. This time, we are focusing on building a commercially-driven infrastructure around the space market.”

With a background in mobile robotics development, space robotics development, and control theory, Solorzano develops and researches new technologies that improve space and autonomous robotics applications. He’s assisting in the development, testing, and advancement of new landing technologies, communication systems, and engines that will be used in future manned missions.

“These technologies are essential for the upcoming Artemis program (planning to again put humans on the Moon) and for the development of the Lunar Gateway (planned mini-space station in lunar orbit). By going down this road, we can have more chances of having a commercially competitive and driven market to support the new developments in space,” he said.

NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services delivery program is similar to shipping products across Earth using services like FedEx or DHL, but in this case, it will be transporting payloads from Earth to the Moon.

Solorzano prepared for the challenge by developing autonomous robot technologies that paint the field lines of soccer fields without the assistance of humans or the use of Global Positioning System-based technologies. He also has led several teams in the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition and assisted in the development of several teleoperated robots.

“Robotics is a rapidly growing discipline with a lot of multidisciplinary fields. As an engineer, I’m extremely passionate, curious, and motivated to work in and with multiple engineering disciplines. Furthermore, robots can help humans perform tasks that are otherwise dangerous for them,” he said.

Solorzano’s interest in robotics was fostered through the robotic team’s project for the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC) and later served as the team president.

“Rose-Hulman gave me the tools, thinking, and training necessary to achieve my work. More importantly, it provided me with a lot of hands-on experience in projects which greatly reinforced advanced concepts learned in classes,” he said. “The robotics team’s IGVC challenge gave me a substantial insight into the challenges that face intelligent ground vehicles. This opportunity was more than I could have asked for and helped focus my career path after I graduated.”

After Rose-Hulman, Solorzano went on to earn a master’s degree in robotics systems development from Carnegie Mellon University.
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