The Programmable Logic (PLuto) rover is an advanced mobility platform and research prototype for future Mars surface missions planned by NASA. It is primarily used as a test-and-validation vehicle for technology development under the Mars Sample Return Campaign. Previously, it has been utilized by the Mars Sample Transfer Test-bed R&TD task for developing technologies and demonstrating retrieval of Sealed Sample Tube Assemblies from the ESA Sample Fetch Rover (SFR). This included end-to-end mission concept testing and validation associated with autonomous and semi-autonomous acquisition of sealed sample tubes from a simulated Martian surface thru delivery to a Sample Transfer Robotic arm for loading into the Mars Ascent Vehicle.
The PLuto rover is similar in function and capabilities to the Mars Exploration Rovers, although the MER rovers are about 1.5 times as large and 2.5 times as massive. Solar panels and onboard batteries provide power for each vehicle. From a systems-level viewpoint, there are subtle functional differences between the rovers' designs and configuration in the areas of mobility and sensing for navigation and control. Both designs employ the JPL 6-wheel rocker-bogie suspension and are compatible with respect to motor control and mobility performance. The PLuto Rover uses off-the-shelf electronics and Gig-E Cameras. Also, the robotic arm is different from other rovers in that it has a top-mounted 6-degrees-of-freedom (DOF). Typically, 5 DOF robotic arms are used on research development and flight rovers including MER, MSL, and M2020. The 6th DOF is used to enable developmental testing in acquisition, manipulation, and storing of sealed sample tubes on the PLuto rover.